When I had been teaching for around eight years, I agreed to pilot a reading program developed by a professor at Duke University. My Principal was very supportive of  this program and we saw the children flourish as a result of its implementation. Soon I began to get visitors from  all  over the United States and the Central Administration started contacting me about teaching in-service workshops  so that teachers in other schools could learn how to use it. I  enjoyed this opportunity because I was excited about the positive impact the program was having on my students. It also put me in a position to meet teachers in other schools who were conducting in-service workshops on other topics.

One teacher in another school that I came in contact with was known for her make and take workshops. I had seen a lot of the materials she used in a presentation and asked if I could come and visit her classroom. I was always looking for ways to improve my instruction and had been impressed with some of the materials she told us about in her presentation. Along with several other kindergarten teachers, I arranged to take a professional day and come for a visit.

When we walked in, we were impressed by how many games she had made for her classroom. It looked as if it could be featured in a professional magazine. We sat down to watch and it took all of five minutes for us to realize that the children were not allowed to use the materials. She used direct instruction to lecture while she held up her materials. The children sat quietly on the rug or in their seats at tables. All I could think about was how many times a professor in college with a monotone voice had  caused me to lose interest in the lesson. We all learn by doing and the fact that this "model" teacher would not allow the materials to be used by her students floored me. These children were required to sit quietly on the rug or in their seats at tables as she stood at the front of the classroom and "demonstrated"  a game she had made. She was dressed to the nines that day but not once did I see her get down on the floor to interact with the children or even get down on their  level.

Experience has taught me that young children require an intellectually oriented approach where they can  work together in small groups on projects which help them make sense of their own experiences. I find that projects which allow them to observe, experiment, inquire, and examine more closely the worthwhile aspects of their environment benefit them the most. I want them to get excited about learning.

Providing a risk free environment where children are actively involved in their learning is what I have found to be most successful. Games get broken and manipulatives may show wear and tear but they can always be replaced. The opportunity to make a difference in a child's life can't!

I had been teaching for about five years when I had one parent call me and ask to set up a conference. She told me that she was very concerned about her son and needed to come in as soon as possible. We  been in school for less than a week but I readily agreed to meet with her the following day. The mother exclaimed that if at all possible she and her husband would both prefer to speak with me that very day. I told her that I would be happy to meet with them after school and asked if she could give me an idea about what they needed to talk with me about. She was very vague but said it was his writing.

When they entered the classroom that afternoon, both wore solemn expressions. The dad began talking immediately once they sat down. He explained that both parents were very upset because their son was left-handed. He went on to say that they had been trying to get the child to switch hands but so far had been unsuccessful. At that point, the mother interjected that she had heard that left handed people have "mental problems" and that she was very worried for her son.

I paused for a moment and then said "Let me take some notes" as I picked up my pencil with my left hand. You guessed it... I am a leftie too! I watched both parents' jaws drop in unison as far as is humanly possible. I smiled and said "I didn't mean to interrupt, please go on." They just continued to stare at me slackjawed.  I explained to them that there is no research that supports that superstition. They listened quietly, thanked me and said they couldn't agree with me more. If I had to guess who made it out the door first, I honestly couldn't do it. One minute they were thanking me and the next minute they were both hightailing it for the door.

I never heard from them again that year. When we had our Spring conference, hand preference was never mentioned. That young man would be in his thirties now and I hope he is still writing with his left hand....if he wants to!

Every year I have taught, regardless of the school I was teaching in, at least one new teacher joined the staff in the fall. One year I met an energetic young teacher fresh out of college who I learned would be teaching first grade in the room next to mine. This guy had so much energy and enthusiasm that I told him if he could ever bottle it, he would make a lot of money. There was only one down side to my new colleague. He loved to play practical jokes, especially on me. A few prime examples come to mind.

One day he knocked on my door and told me to come out in the hall as quickly as I could. A huge computer box was parked right outside my door. He slapped me on the back and congratulated me for getting the new computer. I was confused and told him I thought it was supposed to be going to the computer lab. He encouraged me to go ahead and open  it and see what the manifest said.  I was absolutely thrilled to think that I was getting a new computer to replace the ancient relic in my classroom. I grasped the top flaps in anticipation when all of a sudden one of his students jumped out and said "Surprise!" I shrieked at the top of my lungs and several teachers came running out to see what the commotion was all about. Of course, my class loved the diversion.
Another time I was running late for a teacher's meeting. Everyone was already seated and he motioned for me to come and join his table. Trying not to draw attention to myself since I was late, I went around to the very back and finally got to his table. I breathed a sigh of relief....until I sat down. He had slipped a whoopee cushion into my seat. Every person in the room, including my Principal, turned to look at my beet red face. I wanted to crawl under the table but I sat stiff backed through the meeting while the little prankster literally chewed on the insides of his mouth to keep from laughing out loud. What added insult to injury was when a teacher assistant at another table passed some antacids over to me after giving me a sympathetic nod.

This young man loved teaching and really motivated his students but he and this veteran teacher had a heart to heart after that staff meeting. He never played another practical joke on me after that! Of course, I DID make a point not to sit by him in staff meetings any longer.

He went on to become an adminitrator where I have no doubt that his sense of humor followed him.

Every year my school has a wonderful Christmas program that involves all of the children in the lower grades. This year, one of my colleagues looked stunning when she arrived to help supervise her students during the program. I later learned that she was headed to her husband's Christmas party immediately following the program. I walked over to her and  said "You look absolutely gorgeous tonight!" She was sitting beside a precious little boy who had been in my summer art class. He hopped up and, flashing his big brown eyes at me, asked "Mrs. B, do I look absolutely gorgeous tonight too?" I told him he did indeed and he just grinned from ear to ear.

Speaking of outfits,  I remember one particular morning when I had managed to get dressed in five minutes and fly out the door so I would not be late for school. I had  applied mascara to one eye while I drove, but had forgotten the other eye as I mentally took an inventory of what I had to do when I got to school. Catching a glimpse of my hair in the reflection of the glass entry door, I saw that my hair flipped up on one side and under on the other as I entered the building. It is definitely going to be one of those "bad hair days" I inwardly groaned as I trudged into my classroom. 

One of my little charges immediately walked up to me and greeted me with" Mrs. B, you look beautiful today!" I looked at him and said "Sweetie, Mrs. B is a lot of things, but this morning...she is by no means beautiful." He thought for a minute, then replied innocently "Well,......... your pants are beautiful!"  I couldn't resist. I reached down laughing and gave him a big hug! I love teaching young children!

As a teacher, I love to use literature in my classroom as often as possible. This week we read a book about George Washington that chronicled the dental problems he is known to have faced throughout his life in a humorous rhyme.

I always love to start off a lesson with a hook that will grab the attention of my little charges. Since the week started off with George Washington's birthday, I decided to blacken in some of my teeth as I read this tail of George Washington and his tooth troubles. The children giggled with delight as I began to read and gave me their full attention. 

Parents of a student I had last year suddenly appeared at the door to show off their new baby. I was so surprised and excited to see them that I jumped up, ran over to the door and threw out my arms to envelope them in a big hug. Unfortunately, I forgot about my own teeth. If you could have seen the look of horror on that poor Dad's face when I greeted him with a big smile. It grabbed everybody's attention....no doubt about it. Maybe next year I should consider a more subdued hook?

It is always exciting to get ready for a new school year. One year another teacher and I went to an office supply store to purchase containers for our classrooms as well as other needed supplies. We wanted to be ready to welcome our new students the following week. My teacher friend drove her SUV because it could hold so much more than my Honda accord.

I loaded up my cart with numerous containers to hold games and manipulatives and managed to finish shopping before my teacher friend. I waved her down and told her that I was going to head out to her car and would wait for her there.

Once I found her car, I unloaded all of my containers and neatly stacked them in the trunk section. I got in the car and pulled out a paperback that I had been reading while I waited for my friend. All of a sudden a man opened the door on the driver's side. "May I help you?" I asked in a surprised tone. He replied that he was about to ask me the same thing. I looked at him with a puzzled expression until he said "This is my car!"

Oops! After apologizing profusely, I found my discarded cart and loaded it back up with my purchases. The car owner chuckled as he helped me reload the cart. Sheepishly, I waved goodbye and looked for my friend's car. "How did I beat you out here?" she asked once I found it with her waiting inside. "It's a long story" I replied as I opened her trunk and once again loaded my purchases in the back.

If there is one important bit of knowledge that I can impart to new elementary school teachers, regardless of their assigned grade, it would be this. To reach a child's mind, you have to capture his or her heart. You have to get to know each child as well as to let each one know that you care. It is not to say that you need not know your subject matter or the curriculum. That is a given. However, I have known excellent teachers who focused too much on what they were teaching and not enough on who they were teaching. You can not fit a child to the curriculum. Instead, you must fit the curriculum to the child.  I have embraced both of these concepts throughout my career and I believe that they have helped to make me a better teacher. How did I come about these bits of knowledge? I learned them through a "cipher". Webster defines a cipher as "one that has no weight, worth or influence." Let me tell you about my "cipher".

I had been teaching about seven years when a beautiful little blond girl joined my classroom around November. This sweet faced little girl barely spoke that day and was easily forgotten by all, including me. Days passed and each day she entered with such a sad expression on her face. The children and I would try to engage the child in conversation but to no avail. Weeks passed and it was as if this child was just existing. I kept praying that God would show me a way to get through to her.

 One day some of the children began to tease her at recess about never wanting to play. Children can be unwittingly cruel, but this child just stood there and did not fight back. I stopped the taunting and brought the entire class back to the classroom. I said a silent prayer and asked God to help me handle this particular situation. Once inside, I told them that in no way could I EVER take their Mother's place, but while they were at school, I was their "School Mamma". I asked how many of them thought their Mammas would let another child taunt them or pick on them. Everyone agreed that not one Mother would allow such behavior. I continued by saying that they in turn were "a school family". I told them that as a school family, we had to look after one another and be kind to each other. My talk seemed to have an impact on them because I noticed them all trying to include the little withdrawn girl into a play group later in the afternoon. Even the class bully wanted to give her his cookie at lunch.

The most profound result came that afternoon at rest time which was near the end of the school day. This precious little "cipher" came up to my desk and whispered " Are you really my school Mamma?" I hugged her and replied that I was. She then said in an even quieter voice "Can you make Jimmy stop hurting me?" I was stunned and asked her who Jimmy was and how he was hurting her. It turns out that he was her Mother's boyfriend who lived with the family and babysat for her and her older brother while their Mom was at work. She told me he liked to make her take naps with him. I asked her to go back to her rest towel after I told her I would see what I could do. Brushing the tears from my eyes, I immediately reported this conversation to the school counselor. Things moved quickly after that.

The next day I learned that the man had been removed from her rental home. I have to admit that I was a little nervous when her angry Mother came charging at me that morning while I was in the middle of teaching. I steered her out into the hall and she ranted "How could you believe a five year old? How can you live with yourself if she made this all up?" I paused for a minute and felt the fear drain out of me before I answered "How can you live with yourself if he did and you let him stay?" I told her about what I had observed in her withdrawn little child and that by law I had to report it. She was angry when she left and said she would have me fired which I knew wasn't going to happen.

Her children were taken away from her during an investigation and eventually placed with a grandparent out of state. That child is a young adult now and I have prayed for her throughout the years.

From that year on, I have always told my students that I am their school Mamma and emphasize that our class is a school family. It has never failed to pull my classes together as a team.