Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Crash Course: Just What the Doctor Ordered!

I just finished reading Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me by Kim Bearden. First of all, I love anything remotely related to the Ron Clark Academy, but I especially loved this book.

Kim Bearden co-founded RCA with Ron Clark and is one heck of a middle school language arts teacher. Although I have devoured everything Ron Clark has written (and even met him in person!), I knew very little about Kim (I'll just write about her on a first name basis as if I know her- ha!).

In this book, Kim shares memories and stories of past students and relates them to overall themes that she creatively calls "courses"- courage, play, recovery, chemistry- just to name a few. In each "course" she recalls her experience with specific students and the lessons she learned from them.

What I am most impressed with is how her amazing passion for kids- not just teaching- shines through with each story. I know the importance of building relationships, but it is so easy to overlook them when swamped with a never-ending to-do list and the rush to cover curriculum. Reading Kim's stories helped me to see my own students, both present and past, in a new light. I was brought to tears with many of her stories and connected with both her successes and failures. She has created (and continues to create) so many special moments for kids, even designing an entire grammar lesson around one reluctant student's love for fishing. Amazing.

Kim reminded me that each child is a special gift from God and as their teacher, it is my job to discover their talents, even when they are buried deep beneath the surface, and build upon them. Today when I felt that usual twinge of annoyance when my loudest and most talkative student began their antics, I quickly visualized him as a passionate CEO rousing his employees to action. I couldn't help but giggle and give them a big hug. This student has tremendous leadership capability that just needs to be funneled in the right direction. That's part of my job. That's one of the best parts of my job.

Not only was I touched by her passion for kids, but also by her amazing creativity. I love how she admits that she is a complete type A personality and had to think methodically about how to be creative! In doing so, however, she realized that she could be. From transforming her classroom into outer space, opening a poetry cafe, or creating a hospital room for "injured" sentences needing surgery, she found ways to infuse magic in her classroom. I found myself feeling both feelings of jealousy and guilt as I read about her lessons- jealous of the kids in her class and guilt that I haven't provided many magical experiences for my own students. It inspired me to bring the magic back to my classroom. We are never too old for a little fun and imagination!

It was no coincidence that I read this book when I did. This time of year gets me feeling crazy! After some reflection, I realized that the students who are not progressing as I hoped are the some of the ones I have the weakest relationships with.  I've thought plenty about what small group lessons they need to be a part of and what specific skills I need to reteach them, but I haven't spent enough time getting to know them- their likes, their dislikes, their passions and fears. This book was just what I needed to help me refocus and reenergize.

If you're looking for a refreshing read and a little inspiration, I would highly recommend this book.

Thank you, Kim, for being so amazing and reminding me what a blessing it is to teach.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

My Students, My Kids


So, it's been awhile since I've blogged... ok, it's been a VERY long time. This school year has been quite the transition for me and blogging has taken an absolute back seat. I have been learning and trying so many new techniques and strategies and I plan to blog all about them later on when I have the time and energy to do so. For now, I just popped in to share a story that I don't want to forget.

At the beginning of the school year, we got a new student from Louisiana. I'm going to call him Ted. This sweet child had been moved from school to school and his overall academic progress was extremely low. His mom told us he hated school and she had felt like his previous teachers had basically given up on him. He had trouble making friends and had very low self-confidence. Heartbreaking.

As the school year progressed, Ted struggled and struggled. Vocabulary and math were very difficult for him and my partner and I realized we might need to take some steps to have him tested just to be sure there weren't other issues. Throughout the months of testing, Ted made some progress in reading. We bonded. We tried things and found that he worked best by himself so he could focus. His mom worked with him every night reading just-right books. He also claimed the right corner of my desk as "his spot." Every Friday for our weekly quiz, or for any independent assignment, he would take his spot and work his little heart out. Each week he made some gains. They were small, but they were gains. He was working hard and trying his best and I was so incredibly proud of him.

One week he was working exceptionally hard on one of our Friday quizzes. While he was in his conference class I left a sticky note on his test saying how proud of him I was and told him to keep up his hard work. That sweet baby read the note, smiled, stuck it one his shirt and wore it for the rest of the day! That moment showed me just how little praise and recognition his efforts had received in the past.

Fast forward to yesterday. The day of his initial ARD- he qualified! He would finally get the accommodations he needed and everything was set to go into place on Monday. Then, Mom shared through her tears the news that they had moved and she would be withdrawing him. Y'all, I could not stop the tears. My heart broke.

When we left the meeting his mom walked him down to the classroom so he could collect his stuff. As he stood in the doorway to leave he gave me several hugs. I have never had a kid hug me so genuinely. He even had to come back for "just one more" before walking away. I told him how proud I was of his hard work and to keep it up. He told me that he would never forget me. I truly hope he doesn't. I know I will never forget him.

After he said goodbye to the rest of the class and left, I sat down at my desk. It was Friday and we were in the middle of our weekly quiz. There was his test, in his spot, right where he had left it, half-finished. I completely broke down. It was bitter-sweet to thumb through his test and see all of the questions he had gotten correct knowing I would never see his smiling face in that spot again.

The rest of the class stared worriedly at me as I desperately tried to stop crying. It was a sweet moment to share with them because I always tell them how much I love them, but this was proof. They truly become a part of my heart.

I feel proud knowing that we were able to get Ted the help he needed even though I won't be there to see those supports in effect. I sincerely hope that he will take the confidence he gained with him and not regress. I hope that his next teacher sees the sweetheart inside that so desperately needs to be praised and encouraged. I hope that my work with him made a difference. Only time will tell.

It's days like yesterday that remind me how blessed I am to teach. I get to share a part of my students' lives and childhood and become an important part of their lives, if only for nine months. The time goes by fast and it reminded me not to take any day for granted- it could be the last day I have with them. Despite this testing season when my patience is thin and my nerves are shot, I still have the best job in the world.

I've seen this quote everywhere lately, but it rings especially true to me now.

Give all of your students a big hug on Monday!