Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How Do You Connect With Children?

Dr. Steve Perry is my hero.  He is an educational leader, a principal.  Yes, an educator is my hero.  I have many heros including certain baseball players. And Marilyn Monroe.  Dr. Perry wrote a book called Push Has Come to Shove, Getting Our Kids the Education They Deserve. I read it in a day, and may read it again tomorrow.  In his book, Dr. Perry writes about what makes a good teacher.  Plain and simple, good teachers must love children. They must be able to connect to children.

This had me thinking about my favorite teacher.  We all have one.  We can all think of that one teacher that made us feel loved and cared for.  I have been very lucky. I have had some great teachers in my life who have made me feel like I was on top of the world.  Mrs. Miller, my first grade teacher, came to my home to deliver Get Well cards the students had made me when I missed a lot of school due to pneumonia. Mrs. Cseazer, my high school word processing teacher, believed that I had what it took as an FBLA member to attend a state competition. Mrs. Skutches, my middle school PE teacher, believed I should have been a J Crew model.

However, there was one teacher who made a huge impact and difference in my life. My favorite teacher was Mr. Evans.  He was an incredible third grade teacher. I can remember a lot from his class.  He had a big, old, yellow piano.  I sing the National Anthem at every baseball game I attend because of him. He had a large rocket ship made from felt that reached from the floor to the ceiling.  Reading in the rocket was a privilege we had to earn.  I learned that 6 x 5 is 30 because he quizzed me every week and was sure I was going to learn them.  My clearest memory, however, was when I missed a week of school for vacation. When I returned, Mr. Evans allowed me to show a video of my vacation. I vacationed in North Carolina and was going to teach my classmates about the Wright Brothers because I had been there. I was so excited to show off what my vacation was like while the rest of my classmates sat in school.  It was exciting as an 8 year-old child. Yes, he connected with children.

Mr. Evans never stopped influencing my life. When I was in college, I was given an assignment. The assignment was to write your "favorite"teacher a letter explaining how they had impacted your life.  So I wrote to him all about how he was great and fantastic. I told him how I couldn't wait to get into the classroom to be like him. I told him about how I remembered all of those specific things.  I ended the letter by asking him if he still had that old Tweety Bird Poster.  It was a cut out of Tweety Bird and on it, he had written "Tweet Others the Way You Want to Be Tweeted".  I do not know how I remember this.  I can't remember what I did after dinner last night, but I can remember faces and specific memories from long ago.  Our last assignment of the class was to send the letter to that teacher.  So I did.

Cut to my third year of teaching. I was just finishing up the year in first grade. I was getting prepared to leave a school I loved to move back to my hometown. I didn't know if I would get a job or where I would be living. My youngest nephew, Nathan, had Mr. Evans as a teacher that year.  Mr. Evans was finishing up his long career as a teacher and retiring. Nathan came home from school one afternoon and handed me a large brown envelope.  I opened it up and inside was Tweety Bird.  The original one that had been hanging in my third grade classroom 16 years prior.  Inside he wrote a note encouraging me to become the best teacher I could be. Even as he was walking out the door, Mr. Evans continued to make connections with former students.

It hangs in my classroom today.  It's old.  Very old.  Older than me. Whoever says you shouldn't invest in laminating is wrong!  It's the reason Tweety is still here today.

I tell my story on the very first day of school every year. I show off Tweety and display him in a place where I am reminded that true teachers connect to children.  I am not sure that my third grade students understand the deeper meaning of that story, but I get joy from telling it.

In thirty years, I picture myself packing up my classroom for one last time. I am older and wiser. The years of teaching show in the wrinkles on my face. However, I'm still smiling!  I walk to the office one last time to gather my mail. I scan through the items and stop when I see a familiar name written in the return address. I open the letter from one of my former students asking me if I still have Tweety hanging in my classroom.

I often find myself wondering which one of my former students will be able give Tweety a new home when the time comes.  So as you read this, ask yourselves....How do you connect with children?