Friday, June 24, 2011 that's a great treat!

One of my favorite experiences in life is bumping into students of mine outside of school. It doesn't matter if it's a former student or a currrent student, I enjoy seeing them nonetheless. It's even more enjoyable when it occurs in the summertime at an unlikely place! And that's just what happened to me two nights ago.

I went with some friends to Trivia night at a local sport's bar. I enjoy trivia, but wouldn't consider myself to be the greatest at answering the questions. Let's just say, when I offer a suggestion, the rest of the group quickly asks around to see what everyone else thinks! For some reason though, I actually answered the first four questions correctly - a personal best I might add. As excited as I was about that, my evening became a bit sweeter when I saw four former students sit down at a table across the room.

Bumping into former students is always an opportunity. First of all, I pride myself on the fact that I am quite successful in remembering their names (read my earlier post about the power in remembering a name). So just the mere fact that I call them by their names always seems to make them feel special. Second, it allows me to do something for them even though I'm no longer technically their teacher. I thought about paying for their meals, but then realized that might be a little too much. I quickly came to the conclusion that a dessert might be the way to go. And though the prices weren't too cheap for those either, I decided it was worth it. I saw it as an investment.

I called my waitress over, and told her what I wanted to do. When my students heard of my offer, they came over to my table and said hello. We talked for a moment, and they tried to talk me out of the dessert, but I continued to insist. My persistance paid off, and they agreed to split a dessert. Success!

It felt so good to see them and be able to take care of them, if even just in a simple way. I don't know who got the greater treat that night...them or me. For now, let's just say we were both impacted in a positive way. I look forward to my next encounter with a student! Who knows were it'll be!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Head Start

An idea came to me the other day. I was thinking about ways to get to know my students better, and to also get the parents more involved. I truly do want to be a "teacher for life" for my students, and that requires being a bit more unique or different compared to the other teachers with regards to the experience I provide for my students. To me, this means getting to know my students as much as I can throughout the year. For some, I won't really discover exactly who they are until the very end of the year - which may or may not be a good thing.

While reflecting on this in my head like a wet-behind-the-ears-ready-to-start-my-first-year-of-teaching-teacher, I got excited with the thought of  having my students' parents write short descriptions about their children's lives prior to the current school year. They could share their children's hopes, dreams, interests, etc. This would allow me a head start towards getting to know them. It would also allow me some great talking points and insights into who they are right away at the beginning of the year - which comes in handy when dealing with preteens who may not necessarily want to share about themselves infront of their classmates.

Now, I will have to be clear with the parents that this isn't a forum for them to share their child's strengths and weaknesses with regards to school; it will be more of a look into their personal journey so far in their lives. Yes, I am interested in their strengths and weaknesses in school, but those will become obvious after a few weeks worth of assignments; they are more of the external nature, and I'm looking for the out-of-school experiences that kids often fail to share.

So who knows what will happen, but I'm excited to find out. Maybe this will be the first time some of the parents have ever written down positive information about their children. And maybe, just maybe, they will experience the power of words - the power of their words.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What should I be teaching him?

In my last post I mentioned attending a former student's graduation party far from my home. Well, it just so happens that I also have some good friends who live in the same area. One of my friends is someone I grew up with and the other is an old high school classmate. Both of them have children, and they are both great fathers. I got into a discussion with my old high school buddy John about parenting. Though I don't have children of my own, I feel I do have something to share about parenting since I have interacted with over 1000 children in my life so far as a teacher.

His son is one and a half years old, and he was wondering how much he could actually be teaching him now in his life. I read somewhere that children learn more during ages 0-2 than they do in any other stage of their lives. That being said, I've also learned that you shouldn't try to force too much on them since they may not be developmentally ready yet. We discussed the importance of teaching his son the names of different household items, colors, numbers, etc. when the opportunities arise. Also we talked about how it is good to play matching games and other games where learning can occur. But most importantly we decided that loving his son and making sure that all of his essential needs are being met, is perhaps the best way to be teaching him at this time. The ultimate lesson he needs to teach his son is that he is loved!

And that got me thinking. Our discussion made me reflect on how I should be teaching my own students. I need to make sure there needs are being met, they are feeling loved or cared for, and I am not trying to teach them lessons they are not developmentally ready for. Now, I may not be able to completely provide students with the love and affection they need in their lives, but I can at least show them I care. The hard part is figuring out the balance. I want to challenge my students, but I don't want to push them beyond what they are capable of. I suppose the same holds true for parenting, though parents have a much more intimate and complete relationship with their children. This relationship allows them to really know the talents and abilities their children have. I only see my students for about an hour, five times a week, so I am a bit limited.

Nonetheless, I hope to start the next school year by learning what needs of my students are not being met. And then, I will need to aggressively figure out what I can do for them - all of them! I believe this will build a trust, and it will ultimately show my students I really do care!  

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Special Graduation Party Far From Home

In a few hours I will be celebrating a very special graduation far from my home. The graduate is one of my former students. I taught her in 5th grade and she is now graduating high school. She moved to Florida several years ago, but I've been fortunate enough to remain in touch with her and her family. It makes me proud to spend this day celebrating with her!

Unless you are a high school teacher, you rarely get to attend the high school graduations and graduation parties of your former students. And if you teach in the elementary grades it seems even more unlikely. And if your students move away, you can go ahead and mulitply that unlikeliness. But well before I started my first year of teaching, I quickly and boldly decided that I didn't want to be like every other teacher. This would require finding a way to remain in my students' lives forever. Yes...that's right...forever. For most, that is a tall order, but I gladly accept the challenge.

So on this day today, June 12th, 2011, I will be raising my glass to a young lady who once sat in my classroom many years ago, but will forever remain one of my students.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Power of Remembering a Name

So there I was, sitting outside of Starbucks, with a friend, enjoying a nice evening breeze, fun conversation, and of course my coffee. Fellow Starbucks' patrons surrounded me and constantly walked in and out. And then, a young lady with a familiar face walked by. We didn't make eye contact, but my "teacher" mind instantly went into "I think I taught her several years ago" mode. This happens to me quite regularly, and frankly, I embrace the challenge. I've always prided myself on the fact that I can remember my former students' names regardless of how long ago I've taught them. It was easier at the beginning of my career, but now, after eleven years, and over one thousand students, it has become a bit more of a challenge. And though I struggled at first recalling her name, it came to me after about ten minutes.

Thankfully, she came outside with her friend, and I greeted her by saying her name - not just her first, but her entire name. I could tell she was impressed. After catching up for a bit, we realized it had been over nine years since we saw eachother last. As the evening progressed, I learned more and more about her, and thus became more and more proud to have played a small role in her life. She spoke of her hopes and dreams, as well as times remembered from my class. It was a joyful moment that inspired me even more to appreciate the value in remembering another person's name.

Yes, I believe we still would have had a nice chat if I didn't remember her name. But that simple, little thing, I believe was very powerful, and showed her that she had value in my eyes. She was more than just a face that looked familiar to me. She had a name, and there's power in recognizing that.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Great Tradition

Today, because it's summer, I continued a long-standing tradition I started about eleven years ago. It's not that complex; it's actually quite simple. It involves a trip to Barnes & Noble, and the purchase of a book. It can't just be any ordinary book though, it has to be something in the field of education. I actually prefer books that share individual stories about teachers making a difference. I do this mainly to stay motivated and inspired over the summer. I love reading the stories about real teachers and thinking to myself, "Hey, this could be me!" I am proud to say that I've kept this tradition running since I finished my first year of teaching. I have made it almost like a hobby. It's fun for me to search for new books on the bookshelves. It's getting harder and harder though because I have purchased so many!

Today the two books I purchased were: Tales from the Teachers' Lounge by Robert Wilder and Fires in the Mind: What kids can tell us about motivation and mastery By Kathleen Cushman. I'm looking forward to reading both of these books, and hopefully I will pick up a few tips for the next school year. I believe wholeheartedly that teachers should constantly look for motivation and inspiration.

Something else has happened during this tradition that really excites me. I've shifted from being a reader to being a writer. Reading all of these different books has inspired me to want to write one of my own. I guess after eleven years of teaching I've logged some great experiences and stories that might just be valuable for others to hear. And shouldn't that be the ultimate goal for a teacher! Create something good, something worthwhile, and share if with others so the process will continue for many others. The catch phrase nowadays is Pay It Forward. The book I am currently working on seems new and innovative, and I haven't seen anything like it on the shelves at Barnes & Noble or anywhere else. Perhaps one day someone will be inspired by my words!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Great Timing

On the last day of school, when I finally finished packing up my things, I sat down at my desk to go through some emails. I was pleasantly surprised to see an email from one of my former students. She is now in high school. This is what she wrote:

I was reminiscing the other day about some of my favorite teachers I've ever had. I simply want to thank you for making a difference in my academic life. You care about your students more than any other teacher I have ever known, and having you twice was definitely great.
In seventh grade, doing YCMAD made me feel like a good person. That year I went into a rough part of Atlanta with some church friends and passed out food to the needy. I decided to do something charitable recently. My sister, dad, and I donated about twenty pieces of clothing each to the various states affected by tornados. Honestly, I wouldn't have thought about it if you hadn't assigned YCMAD two -going on three- years ago.
You, sir, have definitely made a difference. Thank you for being a fantastic teacher.

Have a good summer!

Wow! What an amazing email to receive at the end of the year! Her words were so powerful, and helped me realize that some of the kids really are inspired by what I say and do. I love my job!

Friday, June 3, 2011

All I Had To Do Was Show Up

Last night I attended a 3 hour dance recital in downtown Atlanta. It was simply a perfect evening! I went to watch two students I just recently had in my classroom this year. I was so proud of them! I was surrounded by proud parents and family members of the dancers. I sat alongside another teacher I work with and one of the student's parents. Though the evening was quite long, I was reassured why it was worth it when my student's mom said over and over again how thankful she was that we were there. Even more confirmation came after the show when I saw the joy on my students' faces while we took pictures on the stage.

All I had to do was show up! I didn't bring a gift. I didn't even have to buy a ticket to attend the performance. What a great gift anyone can give to another person - just be there for them. Though both of my students had family in the audience, I can't help but think their evening was a bit more special because I was there. And though I don't have children of my own, I'm sure I felt just as proud as a parent probably does.

To make the evening even more rewarding, I also got to see several former students perform. There were students I taught last year, two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, five years ago, and even one I taught six years ago! Being able to see them again and talk to them again was simply amazing!

When driving home after the show, I had the opportunity to reflect on the evening with my teammate Daniel. He is a first-year teacher, and this is the first time he was able to attend an extra-curricular event of a student. I'm excited for him to have had this opportunity. I could tell the evening was just as special for him!

What a great evening!