Empowering students for today – and tomorrow
In my first year of teaching in the Bronx in 2002-2003.
Teacher Appreciation Week is an interesting concept. On the one hand, taking a moment to put the spotlight on teachers is heartwarming and, in many ways, meant as a genuine gesture of gratitude. On the other hand, it makes me wonder whether we have a real grasp on what it means to be a teacher today. If we did, every week might be Teacher Appreciation Week. Here at Adobe, we celebrate teachers throughout the year by highlighing the incredible work of educators who are bringing creative opportunities to their students in unique and exciting ways. This month, we want to make that celebration even bigger to honor the tremendous efforts of teachers and staff across the globe.
“To me, being a teacher is about empowering students to be creative and understand how to be literate in the programs and technologies of today – and tomorrow – and what will allow them to be ready for careers that don’t even exist yet.”
Teaching is a calling. It’s not necessarily solely about the content that is taught, but the impact of a teacher comes from the way we empower our students—we fill a need in their lives by genuinely seeing them, getting to know them deeply and making connections that help further them along on their journey and preparing them for the challenges of a constantly evolving world.
The student-teacher relationship is an invaluable one that can’t be replaced by technology, but technology can serve as a means to expand a teacher’s potential for impact. I’m a prime example of this type of scale, since beginning my career in education over two decades ago, teaching middle school math in the Bronx and now as an Education Evangelist with Adobe.
What teaching means to me
Every day, I have the opportunity to share edtech tools and Adobe programs with teachers and students, to help empower them to think creatively and foster deeper connections to the work they do in school. When I think back on the teachers that I still remember—even now—and hold in the highest esteem, it was how they made me feel or how they pushed me to think creatively, to do the things that I didn’t think I could accomplish on my own. They became the bedrock for when I encountered obstacles later in life. I would think, “I did this incredibly hard thing when I was younger, and so I know that I can do the next thing." And the thing was irrelevant, but it was the fact that I had an educator in my life who supported me, believed in me, guided me, and allowed me to see my full potential, even when I couldn’t see that full potential within myself.
“We don’t create historians or mathemeticans or writers. We create life-long learners.”
When I first entered the teaching profession, I was required to observe a teacher in the classroom. I reached out to the teacher who made the biggest impact on my life: my junior year history and economics teacher, Dr. Melvin Maskin. He was a force of nature and had a reputation for being passionate, but incredibly challenging. So much so that stories of students failing his class were the stuff of legends. When I first found out I had him, I tried desperately to get switched out of his class but to no avail. Once I realized that I had no other options, I resigned myself to what felt destined to be an epic disaster. But as the year started, I found myself engaged by his enthusiasm for the subject and discovering successes along the way through my effort. Projects that seemed impossible, like drawing up a complete business plan for our own company complete with all necessary documentation and paperwork, pushed me to see how much I was truly capable of. I wound up excelling in his class, and earned my highest grade yet.
When it came time for my required teaching observation, wasn’t even sure Dr. Maskin remembered me. When I arrived to do the observation, he smiled and pointed across the room. The desk where I had sat years earlier was open and waiting for me. That gesture alone made me feel as great as I had felt when I first saw the course grade on my report card. That’s the kind of impact a teacher can have on their student even years later.
In a TeachNYC.net promotional video.
Teaching is not something we do because we want an immediate payoff. Often times, it can take years to really understand just how much we mean to our students. When I entered the teaching profession, I always hoped that one day, I’d be able to have the same kind of effect on my students that Dr. Maskin had on me. In the past year, I’ve had several students reach out to me to tell me how much their time in my classroom meant to them. Whether it was a lesson that resonated with them or just the relationships we built. I had no idea that it would leave the lasting mark that stuck with them until now. It’s times like those that I realize the difference I made during my time in the classroom. It’s the same difference that thousands of educators are making in their classrooms every day. Teachers quite literally help build the bedrock for the society we live in. We don’t create historians or mathemeticans or writers. We create life-long learners. We foster passions. We paint a picture of what can be. And we empower our students to go forward knowing they can change the world.
I always like to remind my team, whether we’re in the weeds of ”administrivia” (or, stuck in the weeds with tedious tasks) or some challenge feels like a complete roadblock—that the work we do is incredibly important and changes lives. It might not always feel like it day-to-day, but I know that as a result of the work we do, there will be a student somewhere who starts to make films or creates art or finds their voice because of the work we're doing.
Accessing creativity in every classroom
A big part of my work at Adobe is getting teachers to see the great work they are already doing in a different light. So many teachers are already fostering creativity in students in ways they don't even realize. I love getting the opportunity to work with teachers to remind them, "No one's asking you to do something extra because what you're doing is already great." We love working with teachers to help identify what they're doing creatively, because that’s when they’re able to take it to the next level. Truth be told, I don't consider myself to be a creative in the traditional sense. I tell teachers all the time, if you hand me a blank piece of paper and you ask me to draw something, I freeze up. But my creativity comes out in different ways, and the same goes for so many students. It doesn't have to look like the traditional artist but we all deserve the opportunity to find those creative entry points to tap into our passions to allow the creative within all of us to shine through.
To me, being a teacher is about empowering students to be creative and understand how to be literate in the programs and technologies of today – and tomorrow – and what will allow them to be ready for careers that don’t even exist yet.
The world has been evolving so quickly. I mean, we live in a time with ChatGPT, but also…it seems like just yesterday that I worked at Blockbuster Video. In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” As teachers, we’re helping students prepare for everything. The known, the unknown, and everything in between. And I can’t think of anything more worthy of our appreciation than that.
Jesse Lubinsky is an Education Evangelist at Adobe Inc. with a background of two decades in the education space as an education technologist, teacher, and school administrator, as well as the co-author of Reality Bytes: Innovative Learning Using Augmented and Virtual Reality and The Esports Education Playbook: Empowering Every Learner Through Inclusive Gaming. Jesse is currently a doctoral student of Educational Leadership at Manhattanville College. He is an Adobe Creative Educator, a CoSN Certified Education Technology Leader, an Adjunct Professor of Teacher Education at Ramapo College, and a founding member of the Adobe Creativity Crew.