” Treat a man as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
As an educator, I am in the people business. I serve others. Every experience I gather and chance I take to learn more in my field is so that I may better serve those people. My reasons for teaching are many, but I can name two that define me and my beliefs as an educator: Melanie and Kevin*.
Growing up I was the “smart” child and my sister, Melanie, was the “pretty” child. No one realized then that our little girl minds would also accept the inverse of those statements. While I could look in a mirror and understand that I wasn’t ugly, Melanie was not as fortunate. Melanie learned slower than others and needed more processing time to understand basic concepts. After she was held back twice in three years, she started to believe that she was not only the pretty child but the dumb one, too. We didn’t know then that she was severely dyslexic and saw the world completely opposite of her peers. What saddens me as I look back is that no teacher, no advocate, no one stood up and offered to help my sister. They assumed she was just slow, lazy, stupid. It would take many years for Mel to get the services she needed to prove her innate intelligence to the education community. Melanie drives me as an educator. I work each day with learners to understand them, believe in them and help them see that despite whatever shortcoming they may perceive they are as capable as the next individual. That is how I met Kevin.
My first year in the classroom, the special education department informed me they needed to put a student in my class because of scheduling conflicts. I was instructed to ignore him and allow the special education teacher to work with him since he was testing at a third grade reading and writing level. Because of Melanie, I couldn’t ignore a seventeen-year-old boy sitting in class with all of my other students each day. So I taught to him, along with the rest of the group, exuding the assumption that I believed he was capable of the materials. When I passed out the first assignment I could hear a struggle occurring between Kevin and the special education support teacher. Evidently, Kevin wanted the same work as the rest of the class.
That year, Kevin completed every assignment his peers did in my class. He struggled but was adamant. It was beautiful to watch the young man’s self-confidence grow. When our TAKS scores came in that spring, I shared Kevin’s results with him. He had passed the exit level language arts test (as well as all other subjects). In that moment, seeing his pride, I knew I wanted a career dedicated to helping learners just like him.
This I believe…
- Every student regardless of background, attitude or previous test score is capable of learning.
- Learners have a right to accessible course work that challenges them at their current level whatever that level may be.
- Students must be motivated to learn. Motivation is inherently linked to student-interest and choice.
- Reading and writing must be practiced daily and side-by-side to be most effective.
- Students only truly begin to learn once they begin to question.
- Education starts with metacognition (thinking about one’s thinking); students must be taught how to think deeply and how to organize that thinking.
- Education should embrace the digital learner and help them flourish in the mediums he/she prefers when appropriate.
- Every classroom should come equipped with a caring, compassionate teacher willing to hold his/her students accountable while driving them beyond their level of comfort.
- Great teaching is the result of passion and inquiry. Teachers must be willing to study the craft and the student (data) in order to produce the best results.
For those that like to know the rest of the story. I recently learned that Kevin went on the graduate from Texas A & M University. And, Melanie? She is a wonderful wife, mother of two, sister and writer. She is a grant writer who has secured millions of dollars for public service agencies and she is way further in writing her novel than me (I work hard to tamp down the jealously as I type this). I am incredibly proud of these two fighters. My hope is that my work will allow others like them to forgo some of the adversity they faced.