Teachers Who Help Children Succeed

It has been 10 years since our last child graduated from high school. While that makes me feel ancient, it also gives me perspective and deep gratefulness for all of the teachers who nurtured and taught our girls. They learned both head knowledge and practical skills that they put to use in their jobs every day.

Karen was in her second year of teaching second grade when Lawrence entered her classroom on the first day of school and announced, “My uncle got shot.” That got her attention.

I read recently a moving story of a teacher and student, told in the alumni magazine for James Madison University, where one of our daughters got her degree. Lawrence was a little boy who had failed kindergarten twice by the time he reached the classroom of Karen Kellison, who currently is an associate dean of instructional technology at the junior college level.

Karen was in her second year of teaching second grade when Lawrence entered her classroom on the first day of school and announced, “My uncle got shot.” That got her attention. Who was this child and what was his family situation?

Karen noticed Lawrence was unusually sleepy. He simply could not keep his eyes open. For teenagers, that’s a normal morning at school. For second graders, not so much. He came to school and ate a great breakfast there, but kept falling asleep most of the day.

She checked around and learned he lived in a 4-room house with a grandmother, a father who was in and out of prison, and other family members who came and went. Other teachers seemed to convey that there wasn’t much she could do and, you know, “You win some, you lose some.”

Karen began to engage Lawrence every day at lunchtime, and although he couldn’t read yet (he was 7), he could sure tell stories, some of them true. She learned that he and a little brother frequently spent the night trying to sleep on the seats in his grandmother’s car—her way of protecting them from the noise and “whatever assorted things were happening in that house.” No wonder the poor little guy couldn’t stay awake—he really didn’t sleep well in the car and came to school exhausted.

Karen decided to do what she could, getting permission to set up a cot with soft blankets and a pillow in the back of her classroom, and allowed him to sleep for several hours if he had spent the night in the car. Then he was able to function the rest of the day as a normal child. It was a triumph when he learned to read and work in math at the second grade level that year. The other students didn’t seem to care that he napped at the beginning of the day.

When other teachers asked how Karen was able to regularly teach failing students how to read, she joked about her “magic dust,” but going back to her own days as a student, she recalled teachers who believed in her and cared about her as a person. (Read more about this remarkable teacher in “Caring and Humanity in Education” at www.jmu.edu/madisonmagazine —click on Current Issue and search for Lawrence.)

Another teacher, now retired, Anna Kathryn Eby, shared a similar story in the magazine I edit, Valley Living, called “The Child Who Changed My Teaching Career.” As Anna Kathryn started out as a young teacher, she was determined to be firm and to command respect from her students. She was so firm that one day, in reminding one shy child to be careful about the shapes of her letters, she totally frightened the child. The girl began refusing to go to school.

Anna Kathryn was concerned and wanted to make amends, so she asked permission to visit the home. She took along new crayons and coloring book, and she quickly noted that the child also seemed very frightened of her father. Anna Kathryn knelt down, looked into the little girl’s eyes and whispered, “I hope you will come back to school.” The little girl did come back, and Anna Kathryn frequently complimented her efforts in the classroom. She began to thrive under Anna’s encouragement and loving classroom atmosphere. (You can find this entire story at www.valleyliving.org —click on Current Issue and scroll to page 10. I will also be happy to send you a copy of either story if you don’t have Internet access.)

I will also always be grateful for the school librarian who asked me if she could intervene to see that one of our daughters would be put into a classroom where she would have the best chance to blossom. And blossom she did.

These are all examples of teachers and school administrators who care, and put a child’s needs before protocol to do what is best for the child. Not always easy and sometimes risky, but right.

Who was a teacher that stands out in your memory, or in the lives of your children?

For a free bookmark with “100 Great Ways to Praise Kids” or a copy of either article I mentioned, write to me at Another Way, 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802 or.

Posted 10/9/2014 7:00:00 AM

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