Thank You, Students!

Teaching No Comments »

Since my last blog I have had positive, endearing comments from many of you, my former students. Do you know how much this means to me? I would have a big head if I didn’t know the whole truth.

Teachers are only as successful as their students are. You are the ones who inspired me, who gave me energy, who made my career possible. I used to walk into the classroom where you were seated, knowing that most of you really wanted to be there and were excited about the experiences that were to follow. You were concerned about the children you were preparing to teach and eager to know more about them and the teaching strategies that you would employ. You were creative and industrious and brought out those qualities in me. And you did have questions: questions that sent me to inquire and to learn. You brought your problems and joys to me and I shared many of my own with you. We were family.

School administrators have long sought direction in evaluating teachers – you have been involved in many of these attempts. The truth is that teachers are successful to the degree that their students succeed and this takes a long time to evaluate. As I hear from you and know that you are good teachers I taste our mutual success.

Thank you, students, for making me look so good!

Belated Thanks

Advocate, Education, Special Education, Teaching 4 Comments »

Dear Abby: I am writing to thank the teachers who were kind to me when I was an at-risk child. My mother was mentally ill, my father was absent and the school was my haven. I often wish I could tell some of those adults who helped me along the way that I’m so grateful for the ways they intervened in my life. (June 3, 2010)

Although I never considered myself an at-risk child, with a working mother and an absent father, I was concerned about my family. School was my haven also and I, too, wish I could tell some of my teachers what they meant to me. It’s a safe bet that people old enough to have been my high school teachers are no longer living, so these will be belated thank you letters.

Dear Miss Quinn,

Because our high school was small, I was fortunate to have you as my freshman English teacher, my senior English teacher, and my drama coach. (As you know, this situation was not an advantage when it related to math teachers.)

You really were a dedicated teacher, one who was always prepared to stimulate us to love literature as you did. You also slipped in a life lesson each day as you had a special message on the blackboard every morning. One I remember well was “I complained because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

You led me to love poetry as you required us to memorize poems you treasured and ones we found. Many of those poems are still in my mind, food for thought and comfort. Between my freshman and senior years I decided to enter an oratory contest. I chose Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s lovely ode “When Melindy Sings.” One day when we were rehearsing, you came into the auditorium to listen. Although I was not your student that year, you pulled me aside and coached me in the beautiful dialect and cadence. I didn’t win the contest but both of us knew that I should have.

You encouraged – required – us to write. I wrote my first journal in your class, a skill that has enabled me to write articles and books for my professional and personal benefit. I remember one day when I was looking out the window, daydreaming, and suddenly picked up my pencil to write. Rather than chastising me, you asked me to read the poem I had written.

I’d like to take a tree
And shake its bristles dry,
To dip it in the sea
And brush across the sky.

As a drama coach, you were relentless. You gave me the character roles I loved and the self-assurance I needed. I would love to have your thoughts on the things I have written and the words I have spoken since that time. You would be painfully honest and always encouraging. I am grateful to you for teaching me and for helping me to be a good teacher.

With love and respect,

Jane Bolton

Much later, when I returned to college after 20 years and 4 children, I was probably at greater risk but with more determination than ever. My first encounter was with a math teacher who had a major, if negative, effect on me. As indicated above, I did not have a good background in math and learned from my children that the current approach to math was quite different from the rote method used in my early days. As a class, we were experiencing a great deal of difficulty with the new concepts. Our teacher, apparently frustrated with our lack of understanding, stated “I don’t care whether you get this or not!”
That was a useful lesson in what not to do.

Then along came this lovely, quiet-spoken professor from the Department of Elementary Education.
Like Miss Quinn, she was my teacher in my undergraduate and graduate years. I really meant to write to her and learned that she had died. I hope that somehow she will know how important she was to me.

Dear Dr. Newell,

I entered your class with trepidation and left it with confidence. You had been giving demonstrations on TV on the “new math.” You came into the classroom with an overhead projector and a number of simple objects to show us the concepts of commutative and associative, words totally foreign to me. You manipulated the objects, saying, “See how simple it is.” And magically, I did!

At the graduate level, you had us make math teaching materials, particularly applicable to my special education needs. I remember bringing home the wires and colored balls to make an abacus, and my husband saying, “Good. Now that you know your colors, I think it’s great you’re learning to count.”
(Little did we know that my own student who was blind would find this tool so valuable.) Dr. Newell, do you know what happened? I loved math!

Years later, when I was teaching my college class in math methods for exceptional children, one of the comments on my class evaluation stated, “You’ve got to love someone who thinks a place value chart is beautiful.” I owe that to you. That and the fact that you were my stimulus and model for becoming a college teacher. Thank you for leading me to an exciting and fulfilling career.

With love and respect,

Jane Schulz

“Ready for an exciting and fulfilling career.”

I know I shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition, Miss Quinn, but I ask you reader –
whom would you write a belated thank you note to?

Thanks to Teachers

Special Education, Teaching 1 Comment »

I once heard a college president say, “Teaching is a matter of life and death.” That is certainly true in helping students with disabilities reach the goal of full participation in the world of work.

This week I participated in a Conference on Exceptional Children, sponsored by the Department of Public Instruction, Exceptional Children Division, in Greensboro, North Carolina. Pollye Pruitt, a staff member in the Exceptional Children Division and a former student of mine, had invited me to join her in a session on parent-professional collaboration. I appreciated the opportunity, because this is a topic of great concern and interest to me.

We frequently hear that teachers are dissatisfied with their salaries, their crowded classes, and the abundance of paper work. This is not what I heard in these sessions. I heard genuine concern for their students and respect for their parents, an eagerness to establish relationships that would enable students to succeed. I was surprised at the intensity of the questions posed to us. One teacher asked, “One of my students told me that there was no need to invite his mother to a meeting, that she didn’t care anything about him. How can I help him understand that his mother does care?” Others asked for ways to involve the parents in the education of their children and suggestions for addressing language and cultural differences – overcoming barriers to full communication and collaboration.

A positive relationship between the home and the school is essential for students to acquire the skills necessary for success as employees and participants in the community. I am impressed with the efforts teachers and other school personnel are making in establishing this relationship.

Thank you, teachers!

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