Posts Tagged ‘students’


I had a student a year or so ago.  She was sweet, pretty, funny, creative, shy, warm and wonderful.  She was a kid.

This girl’s heart was in creative arts.  She wanted to be a fashion designer.  She came to school every day in the most inexplicably adorable combination of leggings, colorful shoes, off the shoulder sweaters and hair bands.  As a person with absolutely no fashion sense whatsoever, I was intrigued and impressed every time she walked into my classroom.

This girl was not a strong math student.  Her mom was in a panic, fearing that her child was showing a learning disability or a lack of motivation or a character flaw of some kind. I did my best, all year long, to reassure the mom.  I told her that I found her daughter to be absolutely cognitively and mathematically competent, in spite of her shaky test grades.  I thought that the little girl was slightly intimidated by the math, but I also told her, honestly, that her daughter just didn’t consider fifth grade math to be a huge priority.

I told the mom, as I told the girl, “Math isn’t a goal in itself. It’s just a tool.  If you want to be able to figure out the cost of clothes on sale, you’ll need math. If you want to calculate how much you will pay every month for a new computer, you’ll need math.”  The child began to relax, and the mom seemed to take a deep breath.

It was at the very last conference of the year when I realized that this traditionally very anxious Momma had begun to trust my judgement.  As I finished my description of her child’s academic achievements for the year, she leaned forward and smiled.  “Lily learned so much this year!”, she said, putting her hand on my wrist. “She taught me so much!”

I wasn’t sure where she was going with this thought, but I smiled in return. She seemed pleased, so I was happy!

“I love what you told her about mistakes!”, she said.

I frantically searched my memory, trying to recall what I could have said.  I knew that as a “big picture” learner myself, I often overlooked little details like the operation sign or the carried digits.  As a child, I was often accused of making “careless mistakes”. I found this to be enormously frustrating: it didn’t seem to matter how much I “cared”, my mistakes were still considered “careless”. I wondered if I had passed on the same message to my  not so mathematical student.  I waited with some trepidation as the mom leaned back in her seat.

“She told me what you said about math mistakes!  You said, ‘ There are no careless mistakes. There are only mistakes that you know how to correct’.  She feels so good about her math skills now!”

She beamed at me as I sat there, my jaw agape, my mind a blank.  Did I really say that?  Jeez, I hope I did!  What a wonderful thought to pass on to a kid!


I don’t know if I was really that wise, or if this lovely little girl simply interpreted my words this way. I don’t actually care! She went on to sixth grade, and did very well in math.  



Feel good stories

About twenty years ago a very wise colleague of mine advised me to keep a “Feel Good File”.  She said that I should keep notes from parents, students, colleagues or administrators if they were complimentary and if they made me smile. She told me to keep any item that touched my heart, that made me feel proud of my work or of myself.  So I did.

I’ve had a lot of need for that file this school year, and I eternally grateful to my friend.  I have some of those thank you cards on display on my desk right now.

As this year has gone on, I have found myself truly struggling to stay positive about my work.  Five years ago, every day at school was a joy.  A year ago, the thought of retiring made me cry.

This year, I find myself wondering how much longer I can hold on.  I feel marginalized, disregarded, outdated, obsolete.  I question my expertise every day, and sometimes I even feel sorry for the colleagues who have to deal with me, and for the kids who have to endure a year of my crabby old fashioned teaching methods.

So I’ve decided to use this blog as a place to record some of my “Feel Good” stories.  I’ll try to write one every few days, just so that I can reassure myself that I have done some good.

My first story took place 18 years ago.  I had a little boy on my speech/language caseload who was very, very special.  He had been born prematurely.  His lungs were severely compromised, so he dragged around an oxygen tank all day.  He was profoundly hearing impaired (which is where I came into his life) and had fine motor deficits.  But he was the most cheerful, upbeat, funny little guy in the world, and he never, ever complained.

This little one came to our school when he was in kindergarten.  I worked with him five times a week, helping him to speak, to eat, to understand.  He was a joy.  Toward the end of that year, his audiology team recommended that we get an FM transmitter unit for him.  He would wear a little receiver on each hearing aid, and his teacher would wear a small microphone around her next, attached to a battery powered transmitter.

I spent weeks ordering the unit, learning to use it, meeting with the audiologists to insure that I knew how to use it correctly. My job, in addition to teaching my student and his teacher how to use the system, was to trouble shoot and maintain the parts. All went smoothly until about a week before the start of first grade.  The first grade teacher was a veteran of the classroom.  She seemed like a great match for the little guy when he was placed with her.  But when she found out that she would be required to wear the transmitter pack all day long, and to turn the microphone on and off during the day, she immediately resisted.

“The district can’t mandate that I wear a piece of electronic equipment!!!  I never wear anything around my neck!  I will need to buy clothes with pockets, because I don’t want that thing clipped to my waistband!”

Even when I weighed the unit in front of her (8 oz), showed her how easy it was to switch on and off, reassured her that I would be there to help her, she out and out refused.  She filed a grievance with the union.  She complained to everyone on staff about the pressure that she was feeling.

I knew this woman. I knew her as kind and loving.  A very good teacher.  A pro.   I knew that she was scared of this new technology, and I suspected that her fear of failure was the real issue.  I worked with her for hours, pending the grievance meeting, and convinced her to give it a try.

At this point it was about the third week of September.  My little student, with his hearing aids and his oxygen tank, had been a member of her first grade class for about three weeks.  On the morning in question, I had put on his FM receivers, adjusted the settings on his hearing aids, and helped the teacher to put on her transmitter. As usual at this time of the morning, the children were seated in a circle on the rug, gathered around the teacher.  I watched as the teacher carefully turned on the microphone and began to speak.

“Good morning, boys and girls, today we are going start with……”

Her voice was interrupted by a loud shout, and a crash.  “KAREN!!!!”  It was my little student, jumping to his feet as he called my name, his oxygen tank crashing over behind him.  I turned back into the room, imagining the worst.  “What is it?!”, I asked, rushing to his side.

He looked up at me, his face glowing with amazed joy.  “Karen!!! I can hear my teacher!!”

I gave him a hug and sat him back down with his friends.  I looked at my teacher friend. The tears on her cheeks matched the ones on mine. I left her to her lessons, and walked back to my office.

The grievance was withdrawn that day, and the FM stayed with us for the rest of the student’s elementary school life.


The little boy is now 24 years old.  Six months ago he had a double lung transplant and took his first walk without pulling a tank.  The other day he sent me a message, telling me that he had signed up for a zumba class, and was hoping to get his first job.

April Fools!!!

Oh, man I love April Fools Day.

The kids came in at their usual time, to see our typical morning message on the Smartboard.

Good morning!  I think you’ll find this math review paper to be fun and challenging.  Try to work independently; I am sure you’ll remember the formulas from last year!”  They all came in, handed in homework, put away binders and settled in to do the math.

Which was a college level calculus paper.

Oh, funny, funny me!!!!

It took a few minutes, but pretty soon everyone was giggling and snickering and I was desperately trying to hold onto my serious old teacher lady face. I got the best answers to these problems.  Things like, “I know the answer, but I can’t tell you.”   and “There are x number of weird symbols.  Minus something.”

Eventually, one of the kids noticed the daily schedule written on the board, and the giggles got louder.

Before School Work

Morning Meeting

Math Test

Spelling Test

Reading Test

Music Test


Lunch Test

Ballroom Dancing


Random Comments

Bus Test

They chortled and snorted and I thought I was the best. teacher. ever.

Then came morning meeting.  One child signed up for sharing, and told us that her father took a bad fall last night and was rushed to the hospital. She gave very specific medical details about his injury, inspiring gasps, moans of sympathy and  a truly heartfelt, “Oh, honey! Give him our very best!” from me.  She kept her head down, her shoulders slumped. She was the very picture of a worried little girl.  “Oh, and I forgot to tell you,”, she added.  She lifted her head with a devilish grin. “Pranked!!!!!”  The whole class burst into laughter, including me.

We had a false technical emergency today.  I found a plastic iguana in my water glass.  I dealt with a pretend head injury and a made-up best friend fight.

The kids, in turn, were given a fake spelling test (with the words “cardiology” and “tardive dyskinesia” on the list) and a pretend homework assignment to memorize the foreign dictionary of their choice.

I am not sure that we “advanced toward the standards” today.  We may not have engaged in 21st century learning or mastered any of the Common Core.

But you know what?

We had fun. We learned not to take ourselves so seriously.  We looked at each other and giggled.  We were happy to be in school.

# Evaluate that, you stupid ed reform idiots.

Its an art

I met with a colleague this afternoon.

She is a first year teacher, but she is a woman with a lifetime of experiences that she can bring to the classroom.

I met this woman many years ago, when her oldest child was one of the students on my speech/language caseload. Her boy was sweet and smart but he faced many academic and emotional challenges.  His Mom was supportive, kind, intelligent and humorous.  I knew back then that she had all of the characteristics of a great teacher.

We met today because she is a brand new teacher in our district, and she is feeling incredibly overwhelmed by the demands of the job.  She is trying to learn the math curriculum, master the science units, teach writing according to the Common Core standards, teach reading in small leveled groups and put together an American History curriculum all at once.

This teacher is dedicated and very smart.  She is determined to do this the right way. She came to ask me about formative and summative assessments, scopes and sequences, rubrics and lesson plans.

Here is what I asked her:

Are your students engaged?    Are they happy?  Do they ask you questions about what they are learning?

Are the children chatting with each other? Do they come to your desk to tell you little stories about their lives?

She said “yes” to all of those questions.

Of course she did!  I know her, so I knew that the answers would be “yes”.

So this is what I told her:

You know that teaching is both an art and a science.  The science is about using a rubric to score the writing.  Its about handing out worksheets and correcting them all. The science of teaching is about using the textbook and giving out reading response journals and grading tests. It’s about managing the homework, keeping track of assignments, giving back corrections.

Anyone can learn the science.  ANYONE.  Its all in a book somewhere.  If you teach long enough, you master the science of teaching.

Ah, but the art.  The art of teaching can’t be taught.  It can be modeled, and offered like a gift. The art of teaching can be observed and described and imitated, but if you don’t have that art inside of you, I fear that it can never be learned.

The art of teaching is this: you have to show the kids that you like them, respect them, enjoy their company, believe in their abilities. And you can only show them those things if they are true, if you really feel them.

That’s it, that all there is.  I told this to my friend, my new teacher colleague.  I told her that children can’t be fooled. If you love them, enjoy being with them, feel comfortable surrounded by them, then everything else simply falls into place.

Great teachers love to teach.

All the rest is just a bunch of details.

It’s an art, I told my friend, Its an art to teach well.  And you have mastered that art already.

Rubrics be damned.  Great teaching comes from the heart.  And you either have it or you don’t.

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