Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Teacher Appreciation Story: Why doesn’t my teacher like me?

(contributed by Larisa Kirgan)

Eating Caterpillar“a, a, a, a, a, a, a, b, b, b, b,…”

This is not fair! All of my 3rd grade classmates are spending free time talking, playing games, and in general, having fun. I am stuck at the bulletin board writing the alphabet over and over and over. Why is my handwriting such a big deal? Why doesn’t my teacher like me?

Weeks later, the same teacher informs me that I will be co-hosting the 3rd grade talent show. I am not happy about this. It means more work and speaking in front of a gymnasium full of students and families. She pulls me aside and says, “You can do this. You will have to work hard and put your mind to it. But I know you can do it.” Easy for her to say, she isn’t the one who has to stand on stage. I don’t understand why she keeps picking on me!monarch illustration

It took me several grade levels to mature enough and realize that this teacher was not picking on me at all. On the contrary, she saw something in me that I had not yet. She saw my potential to not just get by, but rather to excel.  She taught me that I had to push myself to be better. Things may not come easy in life, but if I worked hard, practiced and put my mind to it, I could surpass my expectations.

My 3rd grade teacher did not care to be my favorite teacher, instead she wanted me to be the best student I could be.  That made her a GREAT teacher.

Teacher Appreciation Story: Everyone needs to start over.

erasing_clip artOne day in a college classroom, my professor did the unthinkable: She returned a writing assignment and told everyone that they had failed. She explained why the papers were missing the mark and asked us to redo the assignment. I admittedly felt shock and disappointment, because I hadn’t completely failed a paper before.  A couple of people left the classroom. Some, I learned, refused to rewrite their papers. One person even dropped out of the class.  Others, including me, saw the challenge and met her expectations. She was absolutely right and she was unapologetic in her frustration. She forced us to confront our weaknesses, and challenged us to write better and to think more critically. For that, I’m grateful.

Guts are required to challenge students in this way, especially if those students had been praised for years for what is, at best, mediocre work. And it takes guts to meet that teacher’s challenge. Over the months of the course, this professor shifted our focus from earning A’s to learning content and critical thinking skills. Her class was exciting, evocative, and challenging. We took risks, we learned to research well, we made mistakes and figured out ways to fix those mistakes.

In my own teaching experiences, I found it difficult to convince students that it is okay to make mistakes and it is okay to receive a critical analysis of their work, whether from me or their peers. Questions and criticism, when done without personal judgment, help us grow and strengthen our abilities. If praise is the only response we are seeking, then we probably aren’t challenging ourselves to work to our full potential. I didn’t truly understand this until I met this amazing college professor, because I had been so focused on grades and positive teacher comments on report cards.

How do you encourage your students to learn from their mistakes and react productively to constructive criticism?

Teacher Appreciation Story: All That is Seen and Unseen

Aster DaisiesBy the time I was nine years old I had changed schools seven times. As an already shy and reserved child, I had a difficult transition each time. However that all changed the day I walked into Mrs. Ito’s fifth-grade classroom.

We were to be Mrs. Ito’s last class. After 33 years of teaching she was retiring at the end of the year. I got a glimpse into how much she was going to be missed on that first day of school when I walked to our class and found scrawled across the chalkboard a message from a fourth grader’s parent that read, “PLEASE STAY JUST ONE MORE YEAR!!!”  I immediately felt special to be part of her last class. I had made it just in time.

I’m guessing she must have been in her sixties at that point, but you’d never know it. Her whole body shook with energy. Even when standing in front of the class, her leg would tap as she spoke to us. Her eyes crinkled up at the corners when she smiled, and she had a rich, hearty laugh that came easily.  She exuded positivity and joy. We just knew she was happy to be there each day.

Mrs. Ito’s positive influence stretched beyond the classroom for me though. Life at home was not always an easy one. My mom was single with four small children, barely making ends meet. She took in laundry and watched children for extra money, but it couldn’t cover much beyond the necessities, and sometimes not even that. One day my mom kept me home from school to help with my younger siblings so she could work. She sent a note with me the next day explaining why I had missed school. I can still remember feeling ashamed as I handed the note to Mrs. Ito. I wanted so desperately to please her and hated giving her a note that revealed that I had missed school when I wasn’t sick. She took the note and after reading it looked up at me with her crinkled-eye smile and said, “You know, if I had ever had a daughter, I would have wanted her to be just like you.”  I walked back to my desk bolstered by her words. If Mrs. Ito thought that highly of me, then it must be true.

As the year went on, Mrs. Ito pushed us. She challenged us. She never accepted less than our best.  But what she gave me is far beyond what can be measured in a test. She believed in me so convincingly that I had no other choice to believe in myself, too.

Teacher Appreciation Story: Remembering an Excellent Math Teacher

Desks in an Empty ClassroomI just learned this week that a well-liked math teacher at my daughter’s middle school passed away as a result of pancreatic cancer. It was a shock and surprise. My daughter had his class last year, so I was not aware that he had been sick. What I knew of the man was that he came to teaching after a career in finance. In addition to math, he taught his students that understanding math was a key to doing well in the world. He was a friendly but a very no-nonsense kind of person. My daughter liked him and she would report on things that he said in class, which was a rarity.

Thinking generally about teachers, one realizes that the good ones see how kids think and can have a great influence on them. They can also help us parents understand our kids as cogitative beings. To lose a good teacher, to illness or burnout, is to lose a potent resource to shape society. Sure, there are many intelligent and inspiring people who we hear about in the news or in books, but few do we get to watch and interact with face-to-face. Those are the teachers.

I was never able to speak to this teacher because the line in front of his table at teacher conference night was always too long.  I imagine the line will be even longer at his viewing. I feel sad for his family and sadder for the future kids at the middle school who will have missed an exceptional teacher.