Tag Archives: Purpose

Relationships First…or “I Still Want to Be Miss Findlater!”

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“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something I can do.” (Hale, 1870) That is the heart of a teacher! That was the heart of Carol Findlater, my fourth grade teacher and inspiration. Miss Findlater loved and lived passionately and instilled in each student confidence of success. I write about Miss Findlater here, because she connected students to herself in a way that transcended the sharing of content knowledge and physical space for nine months, and she instilled a passion for life, not just learning, that continues to inspire my own learning and teaching years later.

Miss Findlater shared her life with her students; I will never forget the day she burst into the room (she typically burst) and cried out to her beloved 8 year-olds, “You have to hear this!” She proceeded to share Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” and to this day, I love and quote the words: 

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! (Lazarus, 1883). 

I believe that Miss Findlater saw her students as “yearning to breathe free” and she committed herself to breathe life into each of us. In fact, I do not recall wanting to become a teacher because I loved children or even had a desire to help students. As I reflected on Miss Findlater’s influence recently, I realized that I wanted to become a teacher because I wanted to be fully alive just as Miss Findlater was passionately alive. She presented “an authentic self to students” (Phelps, 2006). In 1966, most of the adult women I knew were homemakers. Miss Findlater was an adult woman who read and wrote poetry, and sang songs to us like “MacArthurPark” even though we could not comprehend the meanings, and roared with laughter when we played, and cried true tears when we hurt.

Thinking about Miss Findlater, I decided to visit the alumni page of my old neighborhood school, and yes, many students had written of their memories of Miss Findlater. For instance, a boy from my same fourth grade class recalled:

A quickie about Miss Findlater. She was my 4th grade teacher at Peter Burnett. She was one of my favorite teachers I’ve ever had. She was so nice. When I was the window monitor and put my hand through the window and cut four of my fingers nearly completely off she was so concerned she came to the hospital with me. I remember her very fondly (Jones, 1998).

Another former student wrote:

I was an adult the last time I saw Miss Findlater (can’t remember the year, late 70s maybe).  I visited her at Peter Burnett School. Hadn’t seen her in years. She came out from the teacher’s lounge and recognized me immediately (Wright, 1998).

Those students who were fortunate enough to have Miss Findlater never had to worry that they would “go through school and have no one know what you looked like” (Corbett, D., Wilson, B., & Williams, B, 2005). When Miss Findlater passed away, I attended her funeral, along with the entire neighborhood. Many of us who had traveled a fair distance and arrived only a half hour before the service, had to stand outside as the church was full. We stood, with dignity, and we knew that Miss Findlater had touched each of us with respect, and love, and life.

As I think about Carol Findlater, I admit that I am closely looking at where and whom I teach. I long to be and continue to admire those teachers who are the Carol Findlaters of their schools. All schools, regardless of location, public or private, have students who need life breathed into them – who feel like “huddled masses” in the midst of an environment where everyone else seems to be in control. Those are the students I want to teach. I want to teach those “huddled masses” – those who feel disenfranchised, not quite fitting; instilling a passion for learning because all students deserve the tools to succeed. Of course, desire is the first step.

The next step is taking the risks involved to be that type of teacher. Phelps (2006) notes that Barth wrote “one thought-provoking question for teachers to consider regularly is: “How much are you prepared to risk of what is familiar, comfortable, safe, and perhaps working well…in the name of better education for others?” (Phelps, 2006) That question hits like a slap in the face! Do I risk anything for my students? Do I truly advocate for students? (Phelps, 2006). More recently, Aaron Hogan encourages teachers to risk vulnerability (Hogan, 2017). Vulnerability means I share myself even if I fear “it’s not cool” enough for my kids because when I share myself, they feel safe to share themselves. I open up and say, “Hey, you know, I like this. What do you like?” And then I listen, with vulnerability, knowing that what they share with me might be awkward or disagreeable or actually fun — it’s taking the risk to know each one as he or she is, without expectation of what each one should be.

I have an interesting, evolving role; I hope as I continue in whatever capacity I am in and wherever I am, to strive to breathe life-giving respect and passion into my students daily. “I am only one, but I am someone; I cannot do everything, but I can do something” and I will (Hale, 1994).

References

Corbett, D., Wilson, B., & Williams, B, D., Wilson, B., & Williams, B. (2005). No choice but successEducational Leadership, 62 (6), 8–12.

Hogan, A. (2017).  Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth: 6 Truths That Will Help you THRIVE as an Educator. Dave Burgess Consulting, Incorporated.

Phelps, P. H. (2006). The three Rs of professionalismKappa Delta Pi Record, 42 (2), 69–71. Used by permission of Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education.

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Readers Read…and so do my middles!

goodreads exampleIt’s Christmas break and I update my latest reading on my Goodreads account, and then it hits me! I’d been lamenting the lack of enthusiasm for reading among my 7th and 8th graders, and I couldn’t seem to motivate reading for fun. My middles were used to reading for points, for prizes, for grades — but not for any of the reasons that last after school gets out. This was last year, my first year back in the classroom as a middle school teacher in 30 years, and my first year back as a classroom teacher in 12 years. So much had changed in terms of popular culture, technology, and standards. Nothing, however, posed more of a frustration to me than this apathy and even antipathy toward reading among my students. And then, as I said, it hit me!

My kids don’t see people reading; they don’t encounter peers who read or adults in their lives who read just for the fun of it. I knew this because early in the semester, when we talked about “active reading,” I asked my students to interview three adults about their reading habits. Questions included: “What and when do you read for your job?” and “What and when do you read for pleasure?” Most students interviewed adults they knew; some interviewed people on the street. All found that many people admitted that they don’t read much for pleasure, but they do read during their work-day — texts, emails, memos, and professional reading, for example.

When I updated my progress that day during Christmas break last year, I thought about all of the books I’d read, and all of the people I’d met through Goodreads, and all of the books I’d tried because of Goodreads recommendations. My yearly thrill is completing my Goodreads Reading Challenge and seeing my stats at the end of the year — okay, so that is kind of like reading for points, I’ll admit. Anyway, I suddenly realized that my middles need two things: time to read and people with whom to share their reading! So I revamped my whole approach when we returned to class after Christmas break.

First, I gave my students 15 to 20 minutes each class period to read. We have 90-minute class sessions, so I just reworked my planning and that time for reading became sacred. Secondly, I created a Goodreads group for our school. I invited all of our school’s staff, administrators, and counselors to join “Legacy Reads” so that my kids could see what their teachers and principal are reading — and that they do read. I did have to keep the group private because I need to ensure my students’ privacy with parents. During that semester, I posted a question each week for students to answer on our group page, and each student kept track of their independent reading on their personal Goodreads page.

During the summer, I scoured thrift stores for books to add to our classroom library, bought throw pillows, a chair, and the softest rug ever to surround our library area. This year, kids could opt to read wherever they felt comfortable — and they did! why people read - 3 We set reading goals for the year, noted books we completed with stars and reviews, and shared opinions on our group discussion page. I could see which books kids loved and talk with kids about what they were reading as they were reading, rather than logging in to a program to check a quiz score. I also encouraged parents to take pictures of their kids reading at home and send the photos to me. I then enlarged the photos, printed them, and posted them on the bulletin boards and on our class web pages. I wanted to immerse my kids in an environment of reading for fun. So satisfying to hear a student say, “You have to read this!” Or to see kids smiling as they read silently. Or see that one student has sent a book recommendation to another. Or have a parent stop me in the hall to express wonder that her active 8th-grade son reads after baseball practice because he wants to and asks her to get more books!

The real joy came, however, two weeks after school got out. I was updated my Goodreads page with my latest reading and saw several updates from my students. I wasn’t checking up on them; they didn’t have to update for class. They just continue to read and give stars and share opinions about books. Readers read…and so do my middles now!

 

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Steps…

Today I see the small steps — the step to meet with a teacher rather than pretending help is not needed, the step to list three main points from the history reading rather than skipping the reading altogether, the step to read a chapter in the assigned novel rather than trusting Sparknotes. These small steps, so few, may lead to the next step and the next, and I recognize and value them. Each struggling student who takes a step is to be encouraged — and I cannot let any of us get mired in the journey by entrapping our feet in the mud of “but why don’t you…” or “still you need to…”

Today I see the small steps — the step to speak with gentleness, the step to affirm first, the step to value all steps.

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