Larry Hopkins, School Age Teacer

My journey into teaching began when I was hired at a YWCA-affiliated childcare in my hometown of Walla Walla, WA. At twenty years old I had been searching for any type of work, not at all prepared for the impact my new job would have on me. Playing and laughing with the kids each day, seeing their faces light up at the sight of a friend, watching them explore their world and make discoveries—becoming a part of their lives had an immediate impact on me. I fell in love with the job and eventually became Lead Toddler Teacher; my path was set.

Years later I moved to Portland and was working as a preschool teacher when our center had an opening teaching school-age. My director offered me the position and I accepted, once again oblivious to how I’d be changed by the experience. I learned that school-age children have sophisticated conversations about their experiences, insightful observations of the world around, deep inquiries about life, compassion for others and a strong sense of justice. They also have wildly clever imaginations, exhibit all kinds of goofy behavior in the name of a laugh, value play above all else and are quick to reject anything that isn’t fun. It was a perfect fit. I fell in love with my job all over again and decided to move to Eugene so I could attend University of Oregon and pursue career in teaching.

I received my Masters in General Elementary Education in 2007 and spent four years in the 4J school district teaching 2nd, 4th, and Kindergarten along with 5th grade math. My experience in the district varied greatly site to site. Some schools had climates that valued relationships and diversity. Other schools valued conformity and high test scores. I loved many parts of being a classroom teacher, but I missed the authentic, informal “hang-out time” with the kids. When I was displaced in 2011 I waived my right to a new teaching assignment. Months later I landed my current job here at the Co-op and once again felt I had found that “perfect fit”.

I’ve been at the Co-op for nearly nine years now, and am still in awe of this amazing community which pulls together and supports one another in the name of supporting kids. Teachers here have rich conversations about pedagogy, they constantly self-analyze and look at best practices, and they completely respect kids’ ideas and processes seeing kids as competent, contributing members of society. Of all these wonderful things, the value I connect with the strongest is building and nourishing positive relationships. I believe that if children feel connected to their teacher and classmates, if they feel people at their school anticipate their arrival and look forward to seeing them each day, if they feel like they have a voice because others give weight to their ideas and needs, then those children will develop a love for school and a lifetime of learning will follow. Human learning is an inherently social activity. By celebrating, loving and respecting one another within our learning community, not only do we do we lead happier lives with meaningful connections to those around us, but we expose ourselves to new ways of thinking and feel safer taking risks. This leads to stronger learning. It has been my privilege to support strong learning by laughing, playing, singing, dancing, exploring and working on projects with kids for many years, and I expect it to continue for many more.