Always the KidsBy Sarah Powley, Education Coach
Sarah Powley on Twitter: @AmericanClassrm
The final bell had rung, the halls had emptied, and a small 6th grade boy struggled with a Trapper Keeper, three heavy textbooks, and his trombone case. One or the other kept falling out of his arms.
“Can I help you with some of that?” I asked.
“Yes, please,” he answered.
“Are you trying to make the bus?”
“No, my mom is waiting for me. “
So we made our way together down the long hall, chatting about school, his homework, his family’s plans to celebrate his grandmother’s birthday that evening.
He was open and trusting because even though I was a stranger, I was obviously a teacher.
I delivered him with a smile to his mother.
It was a small encounter, but a significant one for me. When I turned away, I felt that I was part of the staff, a teacher of children again.
In another school, a teacher came to me and asked if I could help an 8th grade girl in her study hall find a library book. “She’s read all the Wimpy books, but she says she doesn’t like to read. I know it’s not in your job description, but could you help her? I’m not an English teacher.”
Of course I would try. The student and I went to the library. A former high school teacher, at the time this happened I had never opened a Wimpy book. I quickly learned that the series features engaging graphics and large text in a font that replicates a child’s printing. The Wimpy books are humorous stories about a middle school boy whose struggles are the same as the ones the kids who read these books experience.
“What kind of stories do you like?” I asked.
She responded in the way I expected. “About real kids. I don’t like made-up stuff.”
So no Harry Potter (She didn’t even like the Harry Potter movies), no vampires, no princesses, no science fiction. The school’s library had graphic novels—but only classics like Robin Hood and King Arthur.
“Can you tell me why you don’t like to read?”
She was unusually aware. “It’s the way the print is on the page,” she said. “It’s all blocky and together.”
Sure enough. Every book she rejected had conventional print. In every book she liked, the spacing between the lines was wide and the right margin was not justified.
We found several books that met her requirements. She picked one, and I took her back to study hall. On the way, she told me she is supposed to get glasses.
In my own high school, where just a few years ago I was the one at the front of the room, I had a chance to co-teach an AP history class. My colleague and I were working with the students on writing thesis statements, the first step in learning to write the elaborated but precisely constructed essays that will be required for students to earn a high score on the tests they’ll take in the spring. We had planned the lesson well, and my colleague is a star, so instruction unfolded like a ballet: perfectly choreographed, graceful and smooth in its delivery.
And yet, my very favorite moment came when a student who had grasped the concept of a thesis and the way each part of the statement previews a point that will be developed in the body of the essay raised her hand and asked, “But what if you don’t know the information?”
My colleague and I chuckled.
“That is your job. Now that you know the set-up, you have to do the job of learning what goes where.”
And we, the job of teaching it.
In my role as an instructional coach, I have met with teachers in secondary schools throughout my district. I’ve talked with them individually, in small groups, at whole faculty meetings. I have met outstanding educators and seen some spectacular teaching. I have been warmly welcomed, my calendar is full, and I feel valued and productive. I love supporting other teachers. I love my job.
But there is something I still haven’t gotten used to, even four years into this work: I miss the kids. Interacting with them makes me feel like a teacher. So I grab every chance I can to co-teach, to find library books, to carry trombone cases.
I am a teacher.
I always will be.
About the author
An English teacher for 37 years, Sarah has taught in secondary schools in Wisconsin, Connecticut, and Indiana.
For many years, she served as the English Department Chair at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, Indiana, and is now a full-time Instructional Coach for her district. Honors include the Milken National Educator Award, the Eli Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowship, the Irena Sendler Award for Holocaust Education, and Purdue University’s Crystal Apple Award. http://www.sarahpowley.wordpress.com Additional articles by Sarah Powley.