Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Are you a Redeemer Teacher

As a kid growing up in public schools, I was not aware of the pendulums teachers and schools were forced to ride as innovations came and left and as curriculums were adopted and lost influence. I was, however, keenly aware of teachers and their influence on me as a teacher.
I began school at age 4, turning 5 during October. I’m sure my entrance into school provided my Mom with a 2 ½ hour respite from chasing a hyperactive, very busy child. Immature and unfocused, I was allowed to play my way through kindergarten unfettered and without considerable pain.

First grade however was a different story. I shall never forget coming face to face with my first grade teacher, her critical eye and her cutting tongue. My, how that woman could use my name in vain! Constantly I heard “PHYLLIS!” Not friendly uplifting manner, but hurled at me as a stone that was hurled at the fabled giant.

This teacher’s strategy to stop me from talking, which I did constantly, was to tie the “talking bow” (a scarf) around my head leaving the bow perched upon my curly mop. This symbol of my defiance was meant to embarrass me into conformity. It didn’t work.

With adulthood I began sharing my talking bow story. One day a principle in California shocked me by identifying my school, the teacher, and the year of my talking bow misery. When I responded hesitantly with “yes” she remarked that, yes I did wear the talking bow more than anyone else. She remembers seeing my pudgy red headed form bounding down the hall sporting the talking bow and talking all the way.

Not only was I doomed by my ever moving mouth but teachers found keeping me in my seat to be a challenge many didn’t accept with joy. Teacher after teacher was bewildered by trying to manage my curiosity and hyperactivity. Many times I was put in “time out,” tied to my desk (although this didn’t hinder my escapades a bit. I would simply lock my knees under the desk and my rear under the seat and walk around the room. So much for keeping a busy kid down!) and was sent to sit in the hall. I polished many chairs and got to know the janitor well while keeping abreast of all the “hall happenings.”

But the most devastating part of my elementary years was my lack of skill in reading. I was slow. I could sound out words and then not remember them moments later. I was totally focused by my teachers on the parts, sight words, sounds, getting it right so that they would leave me alone. I fond the process of reading and reading group activities to be useless and risky. Continually my parents were informed “Phyllis has such a potential but… Phyllis would be such a great student but…” All those comments damned me to a belief that I was lazy, good for nothing, and not working hard enough. As if I was making a decision not to live up to my potential!

Needless to say, my primary years were full of self doubt and anxiety. I spent many hours in the nurse’s room or going home because I didn’t “feel well.”
I did have a few redeeming talents and my parents, thank God, capitalized on them. One very important one was that I could sing! So I sang, at church, at school, anywhere people would gather. I was allowed into choir in the 2nd grade when no one else was admitted until 5th or 6th. Solos became a natural part of performing as did drama and memorization of scriptures, songs and poetry. I could star in those areas and received lot of positive strokes. I am sure these gifts along with me through those years.

Then I met my “redeemer-teacher” as I entered her room that first day of fourth grade. I’m sure she had no idea what her melodious “Phyllis” and her warm welcoming behavior would do for me during my forth grade year and on into the future. Mrs. F seemed to always try to find the best in me. She began by announcing “You sing! Will you lead the singing?” We were off to a great start, not only did she not use my name in vain but seemed to like and esteem me already. I wondered when that would change.

A few weeks into the quarter, Mrs. F went on a home visit to our home one day after school. I remember riding with this beautiful, at least to me, woman in this big car that seemed like a Cadillac through the streets of our town up to my home. I was so proud! She was wonderful. As we arrived I became fearful that she would assault my parents with “Phyllis would be such a nice girl but…”

But when our door opened and my Mom greeted Mrs. F and she my Mom, all my fears disappeared. “Mrs. Harder you have a wonderful daughter!” I was in shock, not buts, no mention of my talking, busyness, lack of responsibility or whatever else my parents had reported. She was my ally. I worked hard to live up to her expectations. Yes, she still had to discipline me at times and no, I wasn’t perfect from then on but I did try hard and didn’t want to miss school, no matter what happened.

This teacher is a teacher that makes a difference. She like thousands of educational professionals meets hundreds of thousands of students yearly, ready and able to become “redeemer-teacher.” As the school year begins, please remember:1. It’s not the pendulum your on but the people you empower that really matters.2. They may not remember what you said but how you said it counts.3. Use children’s names in value not in vain.4. Make Teaching and Learning a JOY!

Phyllis Ferguson MEd., inspiring founder, lives by her motto, “Make Teaching and Learning a Joy”.

As an award-winning, seasoned educator, Phyllis enthusiastically shares her “work smart, not hard” techniques for integration and literacy development in the K-6 classroom.
In addition, she is unreservedly applauded as she consults, provides in-service training, and presents live events throughout the United States and Canada. She is also the Director of Oasis School in Richland, WA as well as teaching K-2 multiage.

Phyllis has a comprehensive background in research-based literacy development, curriculum integration and brain-based instruction. Listen to Phyllis' Save-theTeacher Podcast
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