Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Power of Our First Teachers

I had a very interesting conversation with my mom recently.  We had a chance to sit down together…which rarely happens…and the conversation started out with her saying... “So, I was reading your blog the other day,,,”.  This comes after a text I got from her last week that let me know that she was now on Twitter.  We are talking about a woman who has spent the better part of the last 7 years turning her television on with a needle nosed pliers and now she rocks an IPhone, reads blogs, and is delving into Twitter.  We talked about the time she threw a sandwich at me because I said the peanut butter was on the wrong side (this story actually made the front page of a local paper…sorry, mom)…and when she poured a container of Kool-Aid over my head because I wouldn’t pick up the stuff I had left out…and when she waited up for me to get home and open a college letter to see if I got in…and when I called her after defending my dissertation.  The list could go on for many blogs, but it made me think about the journey we all take in education and who we choose to share that journey with along the way.

Our conversation turned to teaching, more importantly teachers.  It was very interesting to hear her experience going through school with me as it tended to mirror how I felt about teachers.  I think we sometimes forget that the first teachers in everyone’s lives are parents, and as schools we can’t lose sight of the fact that a student’s first teacher needs to be included in how we educate children in the future.

My elementary school experience, in particular, was not a model in academic excellence or behavior.  I knew there were teachers in the building that saw me walking down the hall and wondered what I was up to or were waiting until they could catch me doing something I should not.  Having said that…I believe I probably earned the looks and the added accountability.  I felt out of place…knew I wasn't the smartest person in the class and that I really wanted to be in charge instead of being told what I should learn.

My mom ran into one of my former teachers in the grocery store after I got my first principal position. This teacher was one of the people that did not see my need to be on stage and propensity to make people laugh in class as a solid foundation of scholarship. My mom stopped and said hi to the woman and said, “You are not going to believe what Joe is doing now.”  After the initial look that my mom could have perceived as…maybe 5-10 with a slight change at parole…she told her that I was a principal at an elementary school.  The answer told a story that surprised me a great deal.  The teacher said that she always thought if they could take someone who struggled to behave in school and somehow inspire the importance of education, then they may be a pretty good teacher.  I kept thinking what that would have looked like in a conversation as a student in her class.  Would I perceive our relationship differently if I knew she thought I had potential to lead a school?

Then there was the one.  The teacher who cared more about the fact that I was there than what she was going to teach me that day.  The teacher that spent more time talking WITH me than talking AT me.  The teacher that somehow was able to help me solve a Rubik's Cube when I was stuck and let us play real dodge ball as a class because she knew there were many of us that just needed to get out.  The teacher that called my house just to tell my parents that I did a great job.  On what you ask? I still have no idea…but I know she did it.  I KNEW from every minute I was in that classroom that I had potential to do great things.  I have NO IDEA what she taught me…I don’t know at what Lexile Level I ended the year or how far below the standard I was in Math.  I don’t know what my state standardized test score was or how many office referrals I had for the year. I do know…that she cared about me…and the perception I have is that she cared about me more than anyone else.  I am sure if you ask my classmates from that year they would say she cared for them more than me…and that is the true essence of what a teacher can do for our kids.

The bottom line is that kids and parents know if we care about them.  The student’s experience in class often mirrors the thoughts parents have about the teacher and school.  Would you rather have them feel it every day or wait 20 years until you run across them in a grocery store to let them know they have potential?