Annie Holland, U.S. History teacher at Piedmont Middle School
PEF: What was your path to becoming a teacher?
Holland: I always wanted to be a teacher; in fact, I can’t even remember a time when I didn’t want to teach. I grew up in a family that loves and values learning; almost everyone in my family is a teacher, and they have all been a constant source of inspiration and encouragement. I have taught many ages and levels, from preschool to freshman discussion groups while in graduate school, but what I truly love is where I have been teaching for the past twenty years: Piedmont Middle School.
PEF: What brings you the most joy about your work?
Holland: I love that students are so thoughtful and open to learning, and their willingness to express genuine and heartfelt gratitude fills me with joy every day. Many thank me as they leave the classroom, and one student–after I helped her prepare for her debate presentation–wrote me a note thanking me for teaching her how to be brave and conquer her fear. I love the subject that I teach–U.S. History–and reflecting on my lessons and developing curriculum.
PEF: What do you find most challenging about being a teacher?
Holland: Having enough time. Teachers live in many parallel times at once–we are assessing and reflecting on last week’s lessons while teaching this week’s lessons while planning next week’s lessons–while we are also stretched in many different directions to meet many demands. It is a growing challenge to complete everything thoughtfully and well. What keeps this challenge from becoming overwhelming is that thanks to the Giving Campaign, our average class size remains at 28 students.
PEF: What challenges do you see your fellow educators facing?
Holland: I see my fellow educators struggle with fading morale because the state’s funding doesn’t match the cost of living in the Bay Area. Many outstanding teachers are faced with a horrible choice: having to leave a profession they love or a place they love. We all suffer when we lose those teachers.
PEF: What is the most meaningful thing a student has ever said to you?
Holland: A student once thanked me for giving her the confidence to ask questions and to ask for help. She said that she didn’t always understand things right away, but that she knew that I would listen to her with genuine care and would see how hard she was trying.
PEF: What are your thoughts on the state of public school funding in California?
Holland: We often hear how important education is, but we don’t always see evidence of that at the state level, and it is discouraging to witness and experience the diminishing respect for teachers and public education. The message from the state regarding public school funding is constantly and dismally the same: whether times are hard or whether they are booming, there just isn’t enough money for K-12 education – which means that there isn’t enough money for children and young people. What a bleak message. We can and should do better than that.
I’m extremely grateful for our community’s recognition of the importance of learning and for Piedmont’s generous support in helping to provide the essential funding that our district needs. We all appreciate the many ways this community bridges the state’s gaps in funding.
PEF: How do you and your students benefit from access to libraries and librarians?
Holland: The library is the heart of the school and is therefore vital. The librarians open the door to a lifelong love of reading and research: they listen to students talk about books and recommend more books, they create Pathfinders that help guide students in their research projects, and they show students how to analyze sources to make sure they are credible. Our librarians collaborate with teachers from all departments to create rich lessons and creative projects, and they help with both long-term planning and last-minute questions. Our entire community benefits from our libraries and librarians.
PEF: What else do you think our community should know about our educators?
Holland: I want to acknowledge the essential role that para-educators play in our district. They provide crucial support to our students and are extremely important partners in the classroom.
PEF: What else do you think is important for people to know about your work?
Holland: Teachers are dedicated and committed – to our students, our schools, our district, our community, our profession, and the importance of learning. And even though we face many challenges, I think that by nature teachers are optimistic. Every new school year brings another reason to be hopeful.