Saving Lives

My dad is a pharmacist and for awhile he worked at a prison. This was after he retired and he had the opportunity for a some extra income. He worked at the prison pharmacy just a few hours a week and when he didn’t, well, he was golfing and cooking, and sitting in the barber shop. My mom would see him leaving and she would ask him, “Where are you going?” His response was always the same….”I’m going to save lives.” My mom would chuckle, because he actually meant it. You see, my father felt, and still feels, that his job was to catch the doctor’s mistakes. Some doctors prescribe a drug that could have negative interactions with medications the patient is already taking. He/pharmacists are in the background and they still save lives.

Teaching and educating the youth in our country/world is the same. Strong and knowledgeable educators save lives. You may think I’m being metaphorical, but I can assure you that I am being quite literal. Think about it.

Interacting with children everyday makes your role in their lives extremely important. Children are impressionable. The way a teacher talks, speaks and acts can have a profound effect on a student. Some educators may not realize this, and in fact, they may choose to ignore this because it puts too much pressure on them. I mean, some people want to come into a classroom, share their knowledge, have the children do the work, then leave for the day. They want to stop thinking about the kids, about the job, about the weight of what they are doing, but, if you are a true educator, down in your soul, this is impossible. You can’t teach without taking care. You can’t spread a love of discovery and thoughtfulness, and ingenuity without connecting with the students. Without a true connection to the boys and girls sitting in seats in the room where you work, well you might as well be a computer program because people can learn material from just about anything or anyone, but they can only live the material, ingest the material, and expand on the material when someone inspires them. And this, folks, is a huge responsibility.

Everyday I walk into school a little bit tired, a bit annoyed, and sometimes even grumpy. I want to huff and puff my frustration and I would just love to turn my back and walk away from the drama, you know, after I tell someone off really well. But I don’t. It’s strange really. As soon as the bell rings and when that first baby walks around the bend or out of the bus, I smile. I can’t help it. I hug, I tease, I prod, I cheer, and I sing every single day. The children in my care know that I am there for them so if they have a problem, well, they know I’m there to listen. And I do listen, and nod, and share, and sometimes even cry with them. I rejoice when they are brilliant and I get angry when I fail them. I take responsibility for their woes and I feel pride when they aspire. The kids know I enjoy them because they are the reason I do this. I will always try my best with each of them. I will always listen. I will always hear. And, I will always do whatever it takes to meet their needs. Why? Because every day I enter my school….I save lives.

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Graduation Blues

I have worked with a variety of amazing students from three years to 8th grade. Some of these students got great grades, some struggled, some were defiant, some talked way too much, some had a fabulous sense of humor, and some had the biggest heart and bravest soul you ever saw. All of these children were brilliant, in their own special way. 

As a teacher, I have encouraged, motivated, pushed, and helped my students learn. Sometimes they got frustrated and sometimes I got frustrated. My job was to get right back up and try again and teach them to do the same. I have tried to instill the virtue of perseverance to all of my students. There are days when they are mad at me and days when they laughed at my uniquely ridiculous teaching strategies. It’s my job and it is my passion.

Tonight, my son needed me to be that nurturing teacher. I had to tell him that sometimes in life you do everything right, work hard, be responsible, and still someone else gets the recognition. It may not be your moment to shine, maybe it is that other student’s moment. Life does not stop at high school graduation. Life is not defined by your high school accomplishments. Life is so much more.

One day at a time, one challenge at a time, one victory at a time, it will all happen. Patience is a virtue, it is just not an easy one to understand sometimes. The teacher in me says, hang in there, you can be anything you want to be, the mom in me wants to hold him close and tell him everything will be alright. Life is a journey that you must make your own way through, but tonight I wish I could make that way a little easier for one special high school graduate, my brilliant son, Isaac.

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This has been a crazy year. New job, new position, completed my administration internship, took my administrative test, lost a beloved family pet, and gained a new puppy. Amy says I’m insane all the time and I now believe her.

We lost Choochy back in November. He was the greatest dog there every was. He had his ups and downs in life. He had his third eyelid flip, he had the worst breath known to man, he snored rather loudly, he had the most horrible gas, he lost all but four teeth, he was a chub, and he had horrible hips and kneecaps. But there has never been a kinder, more loving dog. Not only that, but he was smart. He never had accidents, he never ran away and whenever my feet were cold, he would lay on them to warm them up. He never snapped at a child and he was extremely protective of Audrey when she was born a little early. He slept by her bassinet on most days until she became strong. When we got Shi Shi, our second dog, although she annoyed him to death, he trained her. She insisted on sleeping with him even though he would have a low insidious growl going for the entire time she dug, turned, and worked herself into the best possible position. She is now a fantastic calm dog at two years old. When Choochy died, I can honestly say that she remained in depression for at least four months. She is finally getting back to her old self.

When Choochy died I wanted another baby puppy to love and take care of. Shi Shi is wonderful, but it became clear early on that she was Sean’s (my husband’s) dog. She followed him everywhere and still cries for a ridiculous amount of time when he leaves the house. So Shi Shi didn’t fit the bill for me. I needed a dog that loved me above all. I’ve got her. Her name is Tinkerbell, but we call her Tink.

Tink is a little different than my other two dogs. She is adorable and soft, and cute, and cuddly. She loves to kiss you and she will take a walk any time of the day or night. But she is not quite the same as Shi or Chooch. I have used all of the same training techniques on Tink that I’ve used on my other dogs. I’ve read the manuals, watched the videos, praised, gave treats time and time again. I have tried to reason with her about the proper times to relieve herself. I take her out constantly in all kinds of weather. I yell for my family to pitch in and Tink probably goes on 12 walks a day. Tinkerbell will not learn. I hear my husband say, “Thank you for the kisses….no, no, no, no bite.” I can hear swear words mumbled as I hear, “No peeing in the house!” And this is usually growled out just after I brought her in from one of her many walks. She steals any clothes off the floor, her most favorite being underwear. Tink has chewed through four retractable leashes and now she has a indestructible five foot leash. She pounces at Shi Shi, usually as Shi is in the middle of a sound sleep, and she is the only dog, child, anything that Sean and I have allowed to sleep in our bed. Why, you ask? Because she would wake us up every hour, on the hour during the night if she was in the cage. Now she wakes me up every single morning around 5:00a.m. by climbing onto my chest and kissing me nonstop. You see, she want to go on a walk. When we walk around the block other dogs glance our way and keep going. Not Tink, she starts barking and wakes up the entire neighborhood. Tink is eight pounds.

I have a proven process to train dogs. I have used it on both of my other dogs and my training techniques worked perfectly. I used research to make sure my plans were backed by experts and I included praise. But with Tink, nothing has worked. I have had to rethink my training strategies over and over again. I have to be completely consistent, and I have to make the time for her training even when I’m exhausted. Yes, I could get rid of her, but I love her. She is now my baby. I am responsible for her and I take that responsibility very seriously.

Tink reminds me of those students who don’t fit the mold. They should thrive under my teaching skills, I mean they have worked for years on other students, but for some reason these students are a bit different. These types of students are still my responsibility. It is still my goal to make them learn and thrive under my care. I have to show them how to succeed and teach them the tools for success. I just have to do it differently.

All students are different. Some may be grouped together and thrive under a prescribed lesson, but this is not good enough. It is an educator’s responsibility to ensure the success of every single student sitting in the room. This takes time, effort, care, and skill. A great teacher realizes this and makes it his priority to change, adapt, and to become a better equipped teacher. This teacher doesn’t look for excuses, blames the student, or even tries to get rid of the student. She embraces the challenge and does everything in her power to give this stdent what he needs. That’s what a great teacher does.

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I’ve worked in some challenging schools over the years. I have had my fair share of at-risk students. My classroom was even “stacked” because I was willing and able to handle the tough cases (whatever that means). I have to admit that I love the “tough cases”. These students that others roll their eyes over or prays for just once the student would be absent. These are the students that I gravitate towards and I have no idea why. I don’t share life experiences with them. As most of you know I come from a very loving and stable family. My parents support me and have always been there through easy and tough times, so I have no idea why these kids hit that special place in my heart, but they do.

When I worked in the public schools, I worked in the inner city. The system I worked in had a pretty strict policy for students breaking the rules. The principals did not have the luxury of deciding the punishment for the students on a case-by-case basis. The policies on discipline were clear cut and no tolerance was understood. I watched a lot of kids get suspended and many of mine were on the list. I had a problem with this even back then because the kids weren’t really misbehaving in my classes. They generally had very difficult times during transitions and in other classrooms. When one of my students got suspended, their work for me suffered. I didn’t think much about suspensions, even in-school suspensions weren’t on the top of my list. I was always volunteering for the students to hold their suspensions in my classroom so I could monitor them and make sure they were learning. Plus, if the kid’s home life was tough, well then, where’s the point in an out-of-school suspension? Where was the lesson to be taught in making a child spend a day at learning at home, with very little to no parental supervision, probably vegged out in front of the television? This didn’t and still doesn’t make sense to me and now research is supporting my thoughts about suspensions. I just recently read an article or to be more precise, a study card for my principal license. The card went on to quote respected researchers stating how important it is to keep kids in school and that suspended students have a much larger chance to enter the “pipeline” to prison. Not a good thing.

Amy and I have spent a lot of time researching how best to deal with the most difficult students. We both realized early on through personal experience that building authentic relationships with these kiddos work best. But how can you do this if frankly, you just don’t like them? This is an important question and one that has to be looked at with honest eyes and an open mind. As educators we know we are all supposed to love working with kids….all kids. But sometimes it is very hard to remember that especially when you have an oppositional defiant youngster staring at you with hate and anger in her eyes. And, what about the ADHD kid how refuses to sit still and listen raptly as you go through the life cycle of a butterfly? Why don’t the see that you planned really hard to make sure your lesson was riveting and engaging? You even have a great idea for a hands on activity, but the child who’s parents are going through a horrible divorce just threw your premade example across the room. Well, you have to take a breath and realize that yes, these students are complete disruptions, and yes, they are destroying the flow of your classroom, and no you are not getting paid to wrangle tough customers or to train children to act the way they are supposed to. You certainly aren’t being reimbursed for the breakfast bars you keep in your closet for those children who come into your classroom in the morning tired and hungry. I get it, but you are getting paid to TEACH every students and frankly, you can’t do your job if you don’t believe every child can learn. Did you catch that??? You have to believe that EVERY child can learn and you have to realize that YOU are the person who has been chosen to do it.

In order to change your world around, you have to look at each child with fresh eyes. You have to see them as you see your own children, or the children you one day may have. You have to come to the realization that every single child is your responsibility for a lot of time during the day and unfortunately it’s not enough to just “try” to teach them. You have to teach them. This is why building strong relationships is so important. In order to get to most from each child, you have to instill trust. They have to believe that you believe in them and that you are willing to go to the mat for them. Then you have to get to know them. We are all unique. You, as a teacher, have to develop a strong understanding of the particular learning styles of each of your students, so you can tailor your lessons to meet their needs and interests. This is exhausting work and frankly hard, but at the end of the day you will feel successful, and you will feel accomplished.

As educators it’s our job to keep kids in school. This takes a lot of extra effort, but it’s worth it. Teaching is not easy, but you were meant to do this. So do it right.

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