I was not a good student in elementary school. I was briefly placed in a speech program in kindergarten and a reading group in first grade. My name was often on the board for talking, and I hated homework. I couldn’t seem to get the hang of school. It just didn’t seem to be my “thing.” It wasn’t until third grade that I felt that I was starting to become a good student, or at least a better student. I felt more confident in reading. Math and science were a breeze. And my conduct improved, slightly. However, it wasn’t until the fourth grade I felt that one of my teachers believed I was a good student.
In fourth grade, I was placed in a Gifted and Talented class. I wasn’t “labeled” G/T, but in order to make a full class, there I was. Some students made it their whispered mission to determine who “belonged” and who was just “filling a seat.” My fellow classmates would make some of the most rude comments about who was part of the elite and who obviously wasn’t. The fact that I was just feeling like I could do well in school didn’t help things. I felt I had to constantly prove myself in some way. I didn’t want to be found out as a “fraud” by the G/T Inquisition. (Nobody expects the G/T Inquisition. Their chief weapon is surprise, surprise and fear. Their two weapons are fear and surprise and…)
Fortunately, the teacher was not helpful in the Inquisition’s efforts. To say that Mrs. Richardson did not make their job easy would be an understatement. She treated each student as if they belonged. She made me feel just as smart as anyone in the class. When I stumbled while getting use to my academic “legs” (both academically and socially), she helped me regain my footing. Mistakes were minimized. Successes were celebrated. She challenged me to be my best and opened a world of ideas that I still remember and use to this day. From Bloom’s Taxonomy to our Oregon Trail research projects, I remember more from that one year than all of the previous (and most of the following) years combined.
When I was deciding the topic for my first (real) blog post, I asked my PLN friends on Twitter for advice. One of them jokingly suggested, “5 Ways to Teach Like Me.” But, honestly, I often don’t feel that way. I often doubt myself as a teacher. Am I making a difference? Is this idea going to work? How are the other teachers going to view what I’m doing? Will I be found out as a “fraud”?
These same doubts and fears come creeping back even as an adult. And when they do, I’m reminded of that fourth-grade class and a teacher who did make a difference and who guided me through a defining part of my life. I still look to Mrs. Richardson, this time as a fellow teacher, for inspiration in helping others as she helped me.
5 Ways to Teach like Mrs. Richardson
1. Teach great ideas and concepts, not subject areas. (The World isn’t neatly divided into subjects. Don’t teach it that way.)
2. Minimize mistakes; Celebrate successes.
3. Expect great things from each and every student (even if they are not “G/T”).
4. Make every student feel like they belong. (It’s hard to have bullying when everyone feels like they belong.)
5. Inspire others to teach.