About Lee-Ann Meredith

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Lao Tzu Lee-Ann Meredith is a second grade teacher, author, Department Chairperson and education advocate who has spent the duration of her time in public education at John B. Murphy Elementary School in inner city Chicago. Often characterized as funny, dynamic, and an independent innovator, Lee-Ann cites her idol as Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus. Fluent in a wide range in instructional strategies for the elementary level, Lee-Ann is dedicated to being an advocate for children everywhere by implementing 'cutting edge' strategies to increase student achievement. Some of the issues that she spearhead included: promoting literacy throughout the building, leading community meetings to advocate for full day kindergarten for all students and helping implement the Responsive Classroom strategies throughout the school. In addition to working closely with the curriculum, she also had the honor to supervise (and mentor into teaching positions) numerous student teachers and practicum students from various post-secondary institutions around the Chicago area such as: Erikson Institute, National Louis, DePaul. Northeaster Illinois, Roosevelt, and North Park Universities.

Young Student Reading A BookThey line up at the door when the morning bell rings. Twenty-some second graders with book bags and coats snake down the hall. It is a sort of single-file line filled with chatter and laughter. There usually is some pushing and goofing off. All that is required is a “teacher” look from me to get them to snap back into place.

These seven and eight year olds are ready to start the routine of the day. Whatever personal concerns of mine were squeezed out of the room as the class squeezes in. My worries are displaced in my desire for a sanctuary for my students. This sanctuary is, in fact, a classroom.

I shake everyone’s hand as the class enters our room. I notice who looks upset or unwell. I break up squabbles. I remind the forever forgetful few what they need to do when they enter the room, even though it is the 97th day of school. Those who are crying, and some years that occurs every morning, get sent to the drinking fountain with the instruction to take some deep breaths to calm down. As they each enter the room, they settle themselves to the daily business of school.

People who do not teach think of a classroom as desks, where learning from a book takes place. A teacher stands in front of a group of children and, well, teaches. Kids sit in their desks. That’s pretty much it, right?

One of the major papers in my city shows a horrid picture of dirty white, empty desks in a bare room every single time they run an article on our large urban school district. It makes me cringe. It also makes me woefully sad. Is this what they think our classrooms look like? Do they think teachers care so little for their classrooms that we leave them cold and bare?

Granted in my city, classrooms are often old high ceiling rooms. In the fall and spring they roast as the weather hits the 80 degrees mark. They have only a few electric outlets.  The desks often do not match. Those desks are clean though, because we clean them ourselves.

What bothers me most about that photo is what is missing. A classroom is much more than desks. Even if has a Smartboard, and posters on the wall, it is more than stuff in a room. It is, in fact, an environment. As with any environment, it has living things included within it. That would be people, teachers and students, and their relationship with the space and each other. Classrooms are wildly vibrant places full of busy interactions.

A classroom especially needs to be a safe place. It is child’s home at school. They spend hours there for a large portion of their year. Each child deserves a classroom that matches his or her needs. For children with problems at home, it is especially true. Irregardless of a child’s life outside of school a classroom needs to be a place where each child has a role and is accepted as she is.

The goal of this safe environment is for genuine learning to take place. Genuine learning, at least in my book, is more than that now famous acronym, AYP or Annual Yearly Progress. It means to be more than a straight A worksheet completer. We all demand our children do their academic work. To me and many teachers, however, true learning includes behaving in socially appropriate way for a child’s age, and building skills to tackle uncomfortable situations. It means appreciating a classmate’s abilities whether or not if they are your friend.

Our classroom environments are fluid. It has structure and expectations. I expect my students to be respectful, not just to me, but to each other and themselves. I expect them to be responsible for their work, the room, and the school. We write rules to make this happen. We stop work sometimes when things, either physically or socially, are not working according to plan and brainstorm how to fix the problem. We also stop work to listen to a favorite novel, or hear a song a classmate has written. My goal is to create citizens, respectful, resourceful, and responsible. I want them to be the wheels not the cogs.

Our classrooms, each year, becomes a places to take risks. A place where it is safe for a painfully shy girl to say in a loud clear voice, “You are just being mean. Please stop it now!” It is where a child with a stutter answers a question, while the class waits patiently and smiles at him, as pleased as he is that he was able to get the words out. It should be a place where partners are not always friends, but find ways, regardless, to make a science report together.

That is why I take time each morning, from the myriad of tasks that is every teacher’s lot, to greet my kids at the door. It is to see who needs to write an apology note to mom for screaming at her all the way to school. I need to notice who needs a wink to show I get they forgot to take their medication and are wound up as tight as a clock spring. I make a mental not to find ways to help them get through the day. I need to check how the child who has an ill parent is coping. Will he need extra time or is just being here, away from home, enough? Often, it all he needs.

Genuine teaching is not some idea that comes from someone who does not have classroom experience. Teachers teach the life skill of checking it at the door. This door becomes the entry point to a place to do real learning. For me, it is the safe harbor for my second grade students to build their ship to the future – or third grade, which is the same thing.

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