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I am daily reminded of how much of an impact I have on my students. For instance, I have a parent who is always in a hurry to drop off their student. This parent doesn't stop to look at poetry I have displayed on the wall or work that has gone home with great big stickers and positive remarks. This parent simply leaves the impression of wanting to be done with the student. As this child goes to sit down, his shoulders a bit lower than normal, all I can do is pat the student’s back, ruffle their hair and cheerfully say what a great day it’s going to be. However, inside I am seething with anger at the belittlement of this child.
It breaks my heart to see children hurried through life. I wish parents could see from my point of view as a teacher, or better yet, as a parent myself with one adult child in college, another a year away from graduating high school and the third headed to high school next year. I miss them being little and wide-eyed with amazement and wonder. I miss being able to walk them into classrooms and spending time with each of them on a daily basis. I wish parents could see what awaits them in a very short span of years.
I think I look at things differently than most due to the influences that had an impact on my life. I want to be that kind of impact.
I am coming upon the third anniversary of the death of one of the most influential people in my life that helped make me the teacher I am today.November is hard.Allow me to tell you about my dad. He was the person in my life who instilled the philosophy of “if you don’t have a solution, you have no right to complain.” I've used this philosophy in so many situations, but find myself using it even more in the world of education, as we teachers now know it.
Among all of the paperwork, and policies, and politics, and bureaucracy, and meetings, and extra assignments, and low pay I have discovered that if I complain it takes away the energy I should be using to focus on my students. Complaining without a solution does nothing but drain me physically, emotionally and mentally. And if I walk into my classroom totally empty, what do I have left to give to my students?
My dad approached everything in life this way and made sure to quickly let me know if I started whining and complaining about things by asking what my solution was. If I had none, I knew it was time to be quiet. If I did think things through and preceded my whining and complaining with an adequate solution, dad would listen then follow-up after my tirade with, “What’s your next step?” Once again, I was usually speechless which would lead back to square one, “Don’t complain unless you have a solution.” I quickly learned that words required action.
When my youngest son was born he cried all the time. In turn, I cried right along with him. He was a very difficult child who couldn't be comforted or made content by any stretch of my 24-year-old imagination. I was a young mother with two little boys, one of which was very easy while the other one was demanding and needed my constant time and attention. I continued to use my dad’s words of wisdom throughout those difficult mornings that led to difficult afternoons, which lead to difficult evenings and bred the continuing cycle of physical and emotional exhaustion. I continued to take one day at a time, purging through and not complaining, but exhausting all of my resources, not taking no for an answer from doctor upon doctor to finally discover after two years that my baby had a hearing issue. I finally had a solution.
Putting these two influences together has made me the teacher I am today. I teach differently because of them. I lead my students to be problem solvers. I don’t allow them to afford the mindset of ‘I can’t’, nor do I accept rote responses. I teach application and questioning and eagerness to learn, even if they've had a crummy morning or have been hurried into school by a parent who obviously is dealing with adult issues. My classroom is a safe place. I want my children to leave my classroom in the afternoon and take what they've done back home to open up discussions with their families. I want them to come back the next morning, racing into our room ready to expound upon something that caught their attention from the previous day. I want to help these children make a difference from the inside out. And even if they go home to parents who don’t listen or parents who choose to not be a part of their discussions, I want them to confidently come back in the next day and continue their eagerness if for no other reason than to better themselves.
My little people may be little, but they can do great things. And they know that no one can take that away from them.
As far as my influences go, my youngest child, Isaiah, is almost 17 now. He caught up developmentally by the third grade and is the sweetest most compassionate young man with an amazing sense of humor. The laughter I have had with him and because of him far surpasses the tears now. And for my dad, well I miss him daily. But everywhere I look I see solutions instead of problems, action instead of indifference and I still don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. I can only hope that I have positively influenced 17 years worth of students to do the same.
Paula Kay Glass has been teaching for seventeen years. She holds a Masters Degree in education from Southwestern Oklahoma State University and is certified in Early Childhood Education and School Counseling. She currently teaches at and oversees a small private elementary school she started nine years ago. Paula lives in Oklahoma City with her husband, Jason, and three children, Eli, 18; Isaiah, 16; and Elisabeth, 13. She can be contacted at email@example.com