Lynn Sawyer and her 25 Year Journey to Meeting Street Schools
If we were to survey educators around the country to ask them about their why, the reason they decided to become a teacher, the greater majority might respond somewhere along the lines of, I want to make a difference in the lives of children through teaching. While that is often the reason many educators begin their careers, the road traveled is not easy. Often teachers run joyfully into this work with a spirit of immense possibility that is soon met by a polar opposite reality and feelings of burnout. In fact, at the end of the 2017-18 school year, one in four South Carolina first year teachers left the classroom. With national data on teacher retention showing that approximately eight percent of teachers leave their school and the same percentage leave the profession each year (NCES, 2019), many districts are fighting to determine why teachers are leaving the classroom at such a rapid rate. The reasons do not seem to be changing, so maybe the better approach is determining what actually keeps educators in the classroom. Recently we tapped into the experiences of veteran educator Lynn Sawyer to hear her story and what has brought her to Meeting Street Schools this year after 25 years in the classroom.
Lynn is a South Carolina native, and by her own account grew up in a volatile home where education was not a priority. “I went to school if I wanted to (which I did) and didn’t go if I didn’t want to.” Lynn remembers missing school often due to illness and shared the difference maker for her was her teachers. “I had wonderful teachers that loved me as their own and showed great compassion for me. I remember teachers letting me stay at school with them on workdays, when I would show up for school but shouldn’t have. I remember teachers showing up to visit me in the hospital when I was sick. These teachers loved me unconditionally. They helped me believe in myself because they believed in me. It is because of their love and support that I became a first generation high school graduate and decided to attend college.”
At Meeting Street Schools we know that teachers make the difference. The love and support from teachers is what guided Lynn through high school and then on to Charleston Southern University (Baptist College at the time), where she studied for three years before transferring to Columbia College. Lynn student-taught in Lexington 1 and was hired to teach upon graduation. She went on to teach there for the next 16 years. Ms. Sawyer has always known that she wanted to be a teacher. “I loved my teachers, and I wanted to have the same impact on students that my teachers had on me.” After nearly three decades of teaching, Lynn has run into a lot of the challenges, including working with teachers that don’t believe in kids, or that have low expectations for students. Thankfully Lynn’s passion for teaching led her to explore other opportunities in education that connected to her belief that all children can learn. “I believe kids can and will achieve anything we ask them to do if we support them and they know we believe in them.”
Read more below to learn about Lynn’s experience as a new hire at Meeting Street Schools and why she feels she’s found her forever teaching home after 25 years in the classroom.
“Moving to Meeting Street Schools has been one of the greatest things I have done for my career. I am so excited to continue to learn and grow my brain with this organization. I am looking forward to many great years with Meeting Street Schools.”
What’s your educational philosophy?
I believe that school is a safe haven for many students. These students love to come to school and they want to please those around them. They may have obstacles that stand in the way, but a great teacher will be able to identify the obstacles and work around them or even tear/break the obstacles down. My philosophy is that by focusing on relationships, relevance and rigor, students will be able to soar to new heights in their personal and professional careers.
You could have chosen any district in the tri-County area. What drew you to Meeting Street Schools?
The enthusiasm that radiated from every person I came in contact with in Meeting Street Schools is what drew me to here. After the career fair for Charleston County, I decided to start researching to learn more. I visited the different schools’ websites and watched the videos that were posted there. Everything I saw looked like children were loved and having fun. Then when I got to actually talk with Meeting Street staff, I was amazed at the excitement that I heard in their voices and saw in their faces. The passion that I have for teaching children and having fun while doing it was right in front of me. I knew it was the place I wanted to be.
How has MSS met/not met the expectations you had before joining the network?
Meeting Street Schools has blown me away! The excitement and passion that I observed from the beginning is real. It is everyday life. Family and team are more than words. They are actions, and I see it put into practice everyday.
Many veteran teachers are hesitant to leave a school or district after spending an extensive amount of time there. You’ve done that. What advice would you give to veteran teachers thinking of exploring opportunities, but who may be fearful of change?
Change is very scary. I get it. If someone is looking for a change but is afraid to take that first step, I would encourage them to start with looking at the Meeting Street School website. Look at the pictures of smiles on teachers’ and students’ faces. Find a place you are interested in and then make a phone call. Talk to someone at the school, and I believe you will hear something that is different. You will hear the passion and excitement that is probably the reason you decided to go into education in the first place. If I had known way back in 1994 what I have learned from Meeting Street Schools so far in my time here, I would have been an even better and more effective teacher.
What do you say to people who are skeptical about the MSS model?
You have to be here to try it and live it to believe it. I wondered if the excitement would continue or if it was a “hiring ploy”. It has continued. Even on hard days, you can see the passion on the faces of everyone. We all have the same goal and that is to grow the brains of our students so they can be successful both now and in the future.
What have you learned in your first 90 days as a teacher at MSS?
In my first 90 days as a teacher at Meeting Street Schools, I have learned that it is ok to “do too much”. Doing too much is more than ok. It is an (unspoken) requirement if we are going to meet the needs of our students and help them become all they can be. Doing too much means planning and practicing. It means being vulnerable. It means sweating the small stuff. Everything matters. Nothing is too small to overlook when it comes to our students. They matter and we matter to them.
What have you learned about yourself as an educator since joining MSS?
I have learned a lot about myself since joining Meeting Street Schools. I still have a lot to learn, and I am never too old to learn! You can teach an old dog new tricks. Teaching is still fun. I have also learned that it is ok to admit when you don’t know something and that asking for help is ok.
How have you been challenged at MSS?
Honestly, I feel like I am in my first year of teaching again. I am working just as hard or maybe even harder than I did 25 years ago. Planning is not enough. Practice has to be part of the plan if we are to be successful. I think of it like a sporting team. The coach doesn’t make all the plans and then put players on the field in the game. They plan, players practice that plan (a lot) and then they play the game. As a teacher, I must plan, practice my plan and then put it in place in the classroom. I don’t know that I have ever actually practiced teaching a lesson prior to this year. I find myself asking why. It doesn’t even make sense not to now–if I plan to win.
How have you been supported at MSS?
I have so much support from everyone at Meeting Street Schools. The cohort I was hired with has been supportive. I love those people. We were digging deep together. My leadership team has been amazing, and I cannot say enough good things about Tara Warrington (Director of Curriculum and Instruction). She is truly an angel. She pushes me in ways that I have never been pushed because she believes in this work. She has been supportive of me in the classroom-even while coaching in the moment. She is positive and patient. She is kind and she is not afraid to get in the trenches with me to make a difference in the lives of our children. I think that is one of the main reasons I am enjoying this work-even when it seems overwhelming and is exhausting. My leadership team is not sitting in an office somewhere barking out orders or coaching from the sidelines. They are working just as hard-and in many cases-probably harder to make sure we are successful for our students. I love working with/for someone that isn’t afraid to work alongside me.
What has been your favorite MSS memory thus far?
Being in-person and watching the excitement in-person has been my favorite memory so far. These kids amaze me! They are proud of who they are and that makes me smile. They are not afraid to step out of their comfort zone and speak up for themselves. They are not afraid to lead. They love unconditionally. The smiles on their faces makes all the difference for me.
What impact do you hope to have at Meeting Street Elementary @Burns in your first year?
The biggest impact I hope to make on my students this year is to show them that they matter and that I love them. I want this year to be the very best year of their life. I want to make memories with them that they will carry for a lifetime. I want to instill confidence in them-so much so that they believe they can accomplish anything they set their mind to.
How do you plan to measure success for yourself, and students/families this year?
My success will be measured by the relationships I build with my students and their families. Students will be successful once they gain the confidence and belief that they can achieve and that they do matter. When I see a confident student willing to take a leap of faith-even when it is scary, I will know that I have achieved my goal.
Are there any additional thoughts, comments or insights you want to share with teachers, parents and leaders who will read this?
Moving to Meeting Street Schools has been one of the greatest things I have done for my career. I am so excited to continue to learn and grow my brain with this organization. I am looking forward to many great years with Meeting Street Schools.