The Kindness of Teachers

A former college student of mine and aspiring great early childhood teacher, Bonita, wrote about the video below in an assignment for me this past semester.  When I read the tagline that accompanied the video –  Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like –  well, it caught my attention.  I think it will catch yours, as well.

Be THAT Teacher

I will begin my first year as a first grade teacher on August 19.  I’ll share the story of how and why, in my mid-forties, I made it to this moment in the coming days, but for now I wanted to share a thought and video from our 19-year old daughter.  She said, “Dad, watch this video and be that teacher.”

Claire Writes! – ‘Baby Frederico and the New Teacher’

One day Baby Frederico’s Papa Frita decided to become a first grade teacher. Baby Frederico was very excited for this. Mostly because he was a first grader himself and he couldn’t wait to have his very own Papa as his teacher!

One night, Papa Frita was showing Mama Mia pictures of his brand new classroom. He said, “I am so excited! It’s like my own special world!” Baby Frederico smiled to himself. He couldn’t wait to be a part of this new special world!

The next day, one of Mama Mia’s friends, Mrs.B the Bee, who also used to be a first grade teacher, buzzed on over and told the family they could come shop for school things in her attic. Baby Frederico couldn’t wait! He was going to get to help pick out everything that would be in his classroom!

Shortly after, Mama, Papa, and Baby all went over to Mrs.B’s hive. As they made the long trek up the stairs to the attic, Baby Frederico’s anticipation grew. He was just so excited! When Mrs.B opened the attic door, Baby Frederico could not believe his eyes. There was every sort of game, book, and Velcro that you could ever imagine! And yes, I did say Velcro! There was even a whole tub of Velcro just sitting there waiting for them! There was EVERYTHING!

After the family cleared out the attic and thanked Mrs.B, they all went home and opened up the boxes.

As Baby Frederico dug through a box, he told his Papa, ” Papa, I am so happy you get to be my teacher this year! It’s gonna be the bestest year ever!”

Mama Mia and Papa Frita exchanged a confused glance.

“What do you mean Baby? Don’t you remember?” Said Mama Mia.

Baby Frederico also made a confused look, “Remember what?”

Papa Frita sighed, “Baby Frederico, you’ve already been a first grader.”

Baby Frederico laughed, “Yes! I know THAT! I AM a first grader!”

Papa Frita sighed again, “No, Baby. You WERE a first grader. Now you’re a second grader. I’m sorry. That’s just how it works!”

All of a sudden, Baby Frederico felt tears well up in his little iguana eyes.

“But Papa, ” he cried, “I thought I was going to spend every day with you!”

Papa Frita gave him a big papa iguana hug and said, “Oh my silly little iguana, I will get to spend every day with you! I might be a first grade teacher, but I’ll be a first grade teacher at your school!”

Baby Frederico sat up with surprise. He didn’t even think about that!

He smiled, “Ya’ know what Papa? I love that you’re a teacher, but I REALLY love that you’re my Papa.”


It Takes Two

In my work teaching at our local university, I have enjoyed a unique spectator-style view into the lives of people who are working on degrees to become teachers. Every semester I am given the amazing opportunity to introduce myself to more than fifty people who are planning to work in any number of grades and subjects somewhere among the classrooms of the 21st century.

There are many hundreds of very good students whom I have known over the past decade, and then there are a handful who are truly inspired and inspiring.

This semester I think I have finally realized what sets them apart. They have the mind AND they have the heart, in equal measure. There is no doubt that many have one or the other and all of them have the mind and heart for something….but this handful have it for teaching.

They leave neither heart nor mind behind and every idea and lesson plan and motivation is better for it. When I tell them that students and their families are just waiting for them out there in this wide world of ours, their countenances brighten even more.

Together, they make an aspiring teacher a force to be reckoned with…mind and heart. It takes two.

Entering the Grade


Here at the end of another semester I am settling into the moment that I have sometimes come to dread. Entering the final, permanent grades on behalf of a group of hopeful college students is not easy. And, to be honest, it comes with a handful of emotions that I have never really been able to reconcile.

I have many students for whom it is very easy for me to type in an A for outstanding work, but it is never easy to give others an F for unacceptable work.  I have a friend who has always reminded me, “We teachers are just the calculators.  The students are the final grade makers.”  That is certainly true and it does help to remember it, but it does not make it any less difficult.  I thought it would get easier as the years in the classroom passed, but after more than a decade of it, I can tell you, if anything, it has become, not really more difficult, but certainly more painful.

In one respect it is all about points.  Every project has a set number of points that are equal to an A, B, C, D, and F; and the student entering my courses embark upon this quest to fulfill as many of those points as possible by the end of the semester.  Simple enough – you generate enough points and you generate a good course grade for yourself.  I am just a calculator, and in the final analysis those points are all that really counts.

But then, the “messiness” of getting to know these people comes into play.  Every single person who enters my classroom is, well, a person with a name.  They have their good days and bad, their trials and tribulations, their families and jobs and dreams, their strengths and weaknesses…their lives.  I have had students who are moms and employees and wives; those who have struggled with addictions and abuse and anxiety; happy people and grieving people; quiet ones and hilarious ones.

No student is a robot, but this is the time that I in some ways wish they were.  It is the time where I have to grade them, these people I have come to know and admire; many of them just like me, who want to become the best teachers in the world, who want to make an eternal difference, and who want their students to learn so much that they become outstanding in their field. Whether they end my courses with an A or something far less than that, I know their names and very often know their stories.

Teaching is not for the faint of heart and entering the grade, it’s the toughest part.



Like There’s No Tomorrow


What a word – enrichment. Though it may sound very schoolish and exclusive to the 21st century parent (or just an ingredient in a loaf of bread), it really is much more.

To enrich something is to make it fuller, richer, more meaningful and more rewarding.

Enrichment…enrichment. What to do with that word?

Here at the end of another great semester in the education department at our local college, I’ve once again had the privilege of teaching and getting to know some of the most creative and devoted future teachers in the field. It’s really amazing to me, but there always seems to be one conversation that we have as a class that I will never forget. And in this particular semester’s conversation, enrichment was the topic.

We talked about these great early childhood classrooms and how to fill them with meaning, make them richer and interesting and even, dare I say it, fascinating – for both student AND teacher. And what we were talking about was, that’s right, enriching them!

As a group of people who one day hope to teach in the classrooms of children, we decided on a new goal: when we get out there and are assigned our first classroom and we host our first parents night, we want a parent to turn to the other parent and say, “Hey, I didn’t know our kid was gifted and in the enrichment program!” The other parent will then respond, “That wasn’t the gifted program or his enrichment teacher, that was just the everyday classroom and his very own teacher!”

That’s it: our dream. We teach every child as a gifted child. We take every day with these students and we seize it like there’s no tomorrow.

Richer…fuller…more meaningful.

So whether it’s with the students in your classroom or among the family sitting around your kitchen table; your marriage or your reading choices; your sports teams or your parenting style; the way you fish or the places you travel; how you think or what you say; who makes you laugh or what makes you think – enrich it.

The Book of Equilibrium


In a course on family and teacher relationships that I am teaching at our local university this semester, we spend a lot of time talking about the need for equilibrium in the children’s classroom. I often think to myself, if one word could sum up a particular course, what would it be? For this course, the word is equilibrium.

There are too many children living in turmoil – disequilibrium – for all kinds of reasons and in all kinds of ways.

One out of 50—or about 1.5 million—American children are homeless each year, according to a 2009 study by the National Center on Family Homelessness.

On any given day – I said day – there are approximately 400,000 children in out-of-home foster care in the United States; annually about 650,000 children spent some time in out-of-home foster care in the United States. Children entering foster care remain there on average for nearly two years.

It is reported that more than 6 million children in the U.S. are referred annually to Child Protective Services, while some 3 million children are investigated for maltreatment and more than a half million of those children…I said children.. are determined to be victims of abuse or neglect.

Most all of these children in these and other stressful situations also go…to school.

Very often, the one and only place of peace is in the classroom of these children’s schools. That is why teachers can and should provide this priceless commodity – equilibrium – in a world so often full of disequilibrium. We often talk in my classroom about the fact that we can change very little in a child’s home and world and television screen outside the walls of their schools, but we can control the world that exists inside their classroom.

I am so proud to see so many young educators entering the field today who truly see that the needs of young students and their families are more profound than ever before…and that they find that challenge so compelling and important. Neither money or fame mean a thing to many of them. They just want to know one thing, “How can I help them?”

Education in America simply is more than high scores and a catering to reach only a certain population of students. We are not teaching robots nor are we teaching people to be robots. We must teach to reach them all. Every student and every family – and every teacher – deserves no less.

P.S. A few great books on the subject of teaching that will make you want to teach: The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer, The Hurried Child by David Elkind, and Once Upon An Ordinary School Day by Colin McNaughton.