Monday, October 27, 2008

My Inspiration

I was asked recently about my inspiration to become a teacher. I had previously written a piece on that. So, here it is. The way I was inspired to teach...

I came to be a teacher from a different direction than a most educators I know. Most of my colleagues can point to an influential teacher who was so wonderful, so marvelous, that they were inspired to be like that person. Not me. (Okay, in later years I had many a teacher whose good example I sought to emulate--but this essay is going back to the first cause.)

It was not a particularly good teacher that inspired me to teach, but a particularly bad teacher. At least from my perspective. Mrs. Brown, my fifth grade teacher, seemed to me to be about 90 years older than God. She was petite, barely over five feet tall. And I was completely terrified of her. Her strong Southern accent was a novelty for me. Her hostile attitude was like nothing I had ever encountered before.

I remember one time near the end of the school year in particular. I was the most naive, gullible dupe. Several of the students in the class, who had been picking on me unmercifully for months, had decided on a new strategy to get to me. Throughout the day they fed me the story, over and over, that there was going to be a big racial fight after school. Different people mentioned it to me at different times. Some allowed me to overhear them talking with each other about it.

It was in South Florida in the 70s. It was possible, even in fifth grade I knew that. And I was scared. Scared for myself, especially after one girl, new to the school, told me with absolute sincerity that I was a target for the black kids (she used a racial epithet here). I was more scared for my brother, he was a kindergartner in the same school. By the end of the day, I was a wreck. I sat in my desk, sobbing with anxiety.

She asked me what was wrong and I told her about the fight to come. She laughed and told me that was ridiculous. There was no such thing gonna happen. Then she said, and I remember this clearly, “And now need the whole class to sit here laughin’ at you.” They complied. No empathy. No concern. No offer of any kind of understanding. That is the first time I can remember an adult being intentionally cruel to me.

She had her mind set on the way teaching and learning were supposed to happen and anything--or anyone--differing from that preconceived notion was wrong. I guess that made me wrong. For the first time I was not doing well in school. I was getting more quiet and withdrawn. I was called in to see the counselor, who gave me some tests. Being the good little schnook that I was, I took them without a thought as to why. I was “diagnosed” as being gifted. I say diagnosed because the school system seemed determined to cure me.

I was placed in a pull out program. Twice a week I was removed from Mrs. Brown's class to work with the special education, gifted and talented class. This seemed to infuriate Mrs. Brown. I think she felt highly insulted that she was not deemed to be “good enough” to teach me. As I was not making stellar grades in her class to begin with, she could not understand why I was being put in the special ed class. After all, if I was so “gifted,” shouldn’t I be passing her classes?

She failed me for the work I missed in her class. She would only grudgingly, if at all, help me catch up on the work I missed, after all, I was "gifted," right? I should be able to catch up without her help. She never missed a chance to scorn my work publicly and to hold up the work of other students not in the special ed program as examples of work as markedly superior to whatever I turned in.

The students in the class picked up on her attitude. They began to call me names. Poke me. My school supplies would disappear. I was cut off from their society. It was not enough that I was new to the school. Not enough that I was shy and bookish. The teacher was against me. As the year progressed, it got worse and worse right up to the racial fight hoax.

I do not think she could have failed to notice what was going on, but she never attempted to put a stop to it. I don’t know, maybe she thought she was toughening me up or something equally silly. As a teacher myself, I am appalled by her behavior.

When my parents complained about her to the principal, they were told, in essence, “It's her last year; we don't want to make any trouble for her.” Although not particularly surprised by it, I am even more appalled by this attitude on the part of the administration. Schools do not exist for teachers, but for students. Worrying about trouble for her was not what their focus should have been. Worrying about what she was doing to students should have been what they were most concerned about.

Their idea was to come up with a compromise, they offered to move me to another fifth grade classroom. For some reason, the decision was left by the administration to my parents, and by my parents to me. Remember, I was a fifth grader and they were adults. I have always been too stubborn for my own good. Apparently I was very persuasive when I elected to stay in her class. I was not moved. And after that I lost any recourse of going to the office, as I had rejected their solution. I felt even more isolated and cut off after that.

Why would I stay there, though? Why wouldn’t I get out when I could? For some time I felt it was because I was too stubborn to leave. If she didn't like me the worst thing I could do was stay there in her face. I think the more honest answer was that I had one really good friend in the school, from my perspective at the time one really good friend in the whole world, and Jack was in that class. I had always had trouble making friends. I was afraid that if I left I would never make another friend and that was scarier than anything the teacher could do to me.

Often as I sat there I thought that anyone could be a better teacher than she was, even me. There was my spark. As I progressed in school I had teachers who made a deeper positive impression in me, but it was Mrs. Brown in fifth grade who started me off on my current path. Without her I might have never been inspired to teach.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Less Than Heroic

I am back from my wonderfully short, but still beloved, fall break. My school system takes a couple of days off after the first semester ends. This year it was Monday and Tuesday for the teachers and students, and Wednesday for the students—teachers had an inservice day. It is a nice break in the middle of the semester.


It seems my body knows when I am about to get a chance to relax and sees that as an opportunity to break down. Sure enough I woke up Sunday with a raging headache and a feeling of extreme fatigue. This kept up all day. Monday I wasn’t any better. I got worse. At a clinic Monday night I almost passed out before being violently ill. I was given two IV bags of fluids, some meds, and told not to drive myself home.

Tuesday was much the same.

By yesterday I was almost feeling human and was able to eat and keep down some solid food. I did not make the inservice day.

I am not at 100% yet. I am able to show up at work and try to do my job. My students are going to be working on putting together a movie review in here today and tomorrow. Logically, then, it follows that they need to see a movie in order to do so. So we are watching Spider-Man. It is not the best use of class time, but I need to have them doing something that requires a minimal physical functioning from me.

Besides, it is a two day week. Not enough time to start anything heavy. And heck, they deserve a rest now and then, too.

Is this my proudest moment as a teacher? No, not really. Then why blog about this to the whole few people who read this? Because sometimes this is what happens in a classroom. Sometimes the teacher is not at 100%. That is a part of the way it is. And if I only blog about the things I do well, or the things going on that tick me off, I am not being as honest as I think I should be.

So, I hope to be back at a higher level by Monday. Until then

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Creating Fun Ways to Study Vocabulary

I have found some cool new sites to help me get my students ready for the vocabulary I teach them. I go with the idea of teaching them Greek and Latin root words. And I start with numerical prefixes. A great big shout out to Ted Nellen for originating this idea and turning me on to it about ten years ago or so. is the first site I like. I used it to create these two games.

Click here for full screen version

Click here for full screen version

I also used Pro Profs to create this stack of flash cards to help my students study.

Powered By ProProfs: Create Flashcards

I have felt the need to give my students these kinds of tools in order to get them to study. I am hoping that if I make the studying a bit more fun they will focus more on it.

These are all on my website for the students.

What do you think of these games?