Friday, December 14, 2018

The Lives They Touch

I spent the last two days in Des Moines at the Iowa Superintendents Finance Consortium. The keynote during the first day was a former graduate professor I had while studying at UNI who is now retired, and the second day I had brief interaction with another graduate professor I studied with on the back end of my coursework. This was right before starting the final push to finish my dissertation. Upon reflection, these two teachers offered up just the right encouragement and motivation that helped me finish what I started. In all honesty, some of the classes I had to take for my doctorate were not all that interesting! But in their own way, these two teachers knew how to reach a guy like me! So if you are out there reading, thanks Dr. Else and Dr. Forsyth!

In all likelihood these two teachers didn't know they had a positive impact on me as a student. Why would they? Like all teachers they come into contact with hundreds, if not thousands of students in the course of their career. To remember them all would be expecting a bit too much. As I have stated here before, teachers may not remember all their students, but students most certainly will remember their teachers. Over the course of my career, I have shared a variety of stories about those interactions I have had with my former students over the years. And in most cases have had fond memories of them as students. Certainly as educators we will, and do have students whose memory stands the test of time. Perhaps they took a keen interest in the content we teach, or were a particularly talented student. Maybe you remember them because you were close friends with their parents. Or as an administrator, they were a regular client in the chair across the room on those occasions where they needed a reminder about expectations. 

Truth be told, educators just simply can't remember the names or experiences of each student they have in class. Compound that with the passage of time and it becomes even more complicated. Age tends to do that too people! I was recently in a situation where I was faced with one of those awkward moments where I just couldn't remember the former student I was talking to. I didn't try to pretend or act like I remembered. I asked questions, and encouraged him to help me remember our time together as teacher and student. I was at an administrative meeting that had just wrapped up when this man walks up to me and says, Dr. Voss? (I'm always a bit cautious when this happens.)

Then he extends his arm for a handshake and says, "I thought that was you! My name is Daniel and you were my 7th grade music teacher." He knew that I didn't remember him, but he did a great job of filling in the blanks for me. As it turns out, he is now a high school principal. (Yes, I am that old.) Now in full disclosure, he wasn't coming up to share that he was inspired to go into education because of the stellar instruction he received in my classroom all those years ago. Frankly, 7th grade music was not my strong suit. He was merely making a connection that we shared years ago. As I have stated before, I love that kind of experience and it makes my day when I see a former student (remembered or not) all grown up and leading a successful life. Kind of validates why we all got into this profession.

Our time with students in fleeting and precious. The lesson here is that it doesn't matter if they were a model student or one who needed a little extra attention. That student who quietly sits in your room, does exactly what they are expected to do--and no more or no less, is just as important and needs the attention as much as the others in your orbit. They still deserve that kindness, smile, and pat on the back each day. I do hope the reason Daniel took the time to seek me out at that meeting is because he knew that I cared about him all those years ago. 

I'll re-emphasize that point made earlier: they will always remember you. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Watching Them Work

Yesterday I accepted an invitation to tag along with our literacy coach, Mrs. Kiewiet and literacy consultant from the AEA, Mrs. Blohm while they observed mini-lessons. During the classroom visits, our teachers were using a gradual release strategy during writer's workshop, which fits under the umbrella of our larger balanced literacy framework. Essentially it works like this: through direct instruction the teacher models what they want the students to do. Then, the students complete the task together. Finally, they work independently on the task.

I observed a lot of outstanding instruction, ranging from how do deliver a book talk in sixth grade to understanding the differences in the beginning, middle, and end of a story in first grade. 

Part of our overall strategy in this work is to create consistency across all grade levels so as students advance, they hear familiar language. The end result is of course improved student outcomes. Nonetheless, it was a great reminder for me as to how complex this work is for teachers! Not only that, it requires an incredible amount of energy!