LIVING BY FAITH - Learning to be a good teacher
Oki! When I moved to Montana, I thought that I knew how to be a great teacher. I knew what the textbooks said, and I did really well in my classes at Lehigh Carbon Community College and Bloomsburg University, but boy have I learned a lot in the past few months.
Yes, I know the facts and theories, however I didn’t know how to put them into practice. In fact, I am still working on it; teaching is quite a difficult job. I think the books leave out the part about students bringing in their own personalities, attitudes and experiences to your classroom and how one deals with all that.
I expect that all jobs are rough the first year. In fact, I have a book that was required at Bloomsburg, although we never read it; that is, a guide for the first year teacher. If a book was written in order to help a new teacher, it only goes to show how difficult it can be. One of the first things the book suggests is that new teachers should not take on any new responsibilities. I wonder, does moving out on one’s own count as a new responsibility?
Every day, I learn something new. For instance, in the beginning of the year, I thought the most important thing I could do every day was to greet the children by name as they stood up to follow me to the lunch room for breakfast. I also thought that serving them breakfast was taking time away from the education, and simply a hassle.
“Why can’t it be more like the schools I am from, the students that need breakfast go down and eat, the rest do morning work,” I found myself thinking. But now, I see where I was wrong, so very wrong.
My morning routine has changed. The most important thing I can do is to help serve them breakfast quickly so they can finish eating in the time we are given. Now, when I enter the gym to gather them up, I get their attention, and within a few seconds have them standing up and going for breakfast. As I offer them breakfast, I take the time to greet them.
“Good morning, (name of student). How are you? Would you like oatmeal today? It is nice to see you today!” Maybe even adding on, “We missed you yesterday.” The conversation carries on as I place the food in front of them.
Why did my mindset change? Sure, I’ve always heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and that there are kids ‘somewhere out there’ who don’t have food at home but have you ever looked into the eyes of a hungry child? Have you ever learned that a child you know is without food at home? How easy is it to concentrate when you are hungry? I have looked into the eyes of a child, one who was so hungry she couldn’t possibly learn the math I was trying to teach. I am proud to say that the school district I work for gives many of its students bags of food for the weekend, so they can eat when there is no school.
Recently, we had about a week off school due to snow and wind, but the school doors were opened for a free lunch for any child, infant to 18 years old, who could get there. Twice, school staff even delivered food to homes if the parents asked and the staffers could get there. Mind you, the roads were horrid, yet the school attempted to feed as many students as it could.
I often think of the commercial that used to puzzle me as a child. I think it was to fundraise for children who were poor. In the commercial, the older sister (maybe in fifth grade) has her little brother (maybe in first grade) sitting on the bathroom sink, putting makeup on him to hide the chicken pox. She instructs him to keep them hidden until after lunch, so that he will have food to eat. I have seen my students come in with stomachaches, headaches, earaches, and they tell me they are ill, after breakfast, normally close to lunchtime. I wonder how many are coming in just to get food.
In the movie “The King and I,” Anna, the teacher, is struck by the differences in the cultures the moment she arrives in Siam and looks through the spyglass and sees the “half naked” men coming to escort her and her English son. I didn’t need a huge sign telling me that things would be different when I moved to Montana. Oh, I knew the culture was going to be different when I signed the contract. At the first district wide in-service, we all sang an Honor Song, a prayer in Blackfoot. And during that day, Blackfoot words were interspersed in the meetings, but I didn’t see the other major differences for a while. In fact, I am still learning as the days go on.
For instance, in one of the first school in-services, we were all given a gift. It was a small paper bag with items inside of it. I will not go into what was in it, as that is not as important as the bags themselves. On the outside of the bags were hand-drawn decorations from the culture. My bag had six small dots on one side of the bag and a triangle with an empty circle on the other. I admit, I am not sure, yet, what the triangle means. The circles, however, are often present on the flaps of the lodges, what you would call a tipi.
There is a legend about six brothers who didn’t have parents, friends or a home. In fact, they were neglected by the tribe and bullied by the other children. They ended up going up to the Sky People, and became stars in the sky. They are still seen in the Pleiades. The legend is called “The Six Lost Boys” or “The Lost Children.” I have learned that the six dots or the circles on the lodges represent caring for children.
Nii tak ko to mat tsi no. I will see you again.