The Right Teacher Is the Key
I love Mrs. Kees. I hardly know her, but I love her. Look at the smile on my grandson’s face. It’s the last day of school and that smile says it all. It’s been a good year.
Our grandson went to first grade in a very ‘desirable’ school. The building was only 7 years old, in a relatively affluent neighborhood. And unlike some other schools in the area, they still had art, music, library and gym class. (I can hardly believe having library has even become an option schools have to fight for.) He had been well prepared for school after being in a private, education focused kindergarten. He went to school excited for the next adventure. The whole family was excited. But it wasn’t at all what we expected.
Turns out the school and the district were very test score, worksheet, drill, drill, drill focused. Our grandson is a visual learner, has ADD and is a non-traditional learner. The school had no head space or teaching methods that even considered there was such a thing. Instead of hearing us or trying to figure out who he was, their focus was on all that was wrong with him.
As we went through the school year, the school pressed on. Their way was the only way to learn. Anything less or different was wrong. At seven years old, our grandson, completely lost, frustrated and overwhelmed, hated school. He acted out, developed considerable anxiety, especially around math, and felt tremendous shame about who he was. Our family was frustrated and confused. What just happened? What happened to our sweet little seven-year-old? When did first grade become a sink or swim kind of battle? It was not a stellar year for anyone involved.
For second grade his family moved to a new school, new district. As soon as I heard they were moving, I prayed and prayed he’d get a teacher that understood him. A teacher with a heart to help him feel safe and teach him in ways he could learn. Maybe even a teacher that had a similar experience with their own child. We did get that teacher. Mrs. Nelson. But even more than wonderful Mrs. Nelson, we got a whole school that understood him. A whole school that worked with him and his mom to make learning fun again. The school is one of the less ‘desirable’ schools in an average school district. But it’s a school with a heart to help students feel safe and teach in ways they can learn. Second grade was spent helping him feel safe, hopeful, and getting behavior on track. Third and fourth continued that way, with increasing expectations in the classroom. Fourth grade has higher expectations for all kids and Mrs. Kees was the perfect teacher for him and his mom. I have been so impressed with the amount of communication between her and our daughter, and the attitude she consistently displays about our grandson. She sees who he is. She sees the real struggles he brings to learning and while holding him accountable and expecting high achievement, she still likes him. And while his behavior and learning is much improved, there are still things he’s working on. And she sees it as just that. The whole school culture is to see students that way.
I recently met with Mrs. Kees to talk about the different methods she uses to help kids who struggle with writing. (This is a very common problem for visual learners and she has some very successful strategies.) Turns out she previously taught at a more affluent school, where the majority of students were successful. The few that struggled and needed some educational adaptations, were often overlooked. After years of this, she wanted to do more. Turns out the principal of that school had the same heart, so she and a small band of teachers chose to move to the less ‘desirable’ school we now attend and will be forever grateful. Mrs. Kees shared that in her old school she may have had 20 students that learned in traditional ways and 4 that didn’t. In her class now, she has 10 traditional learners and 16 that aren’t. Hence the many different tools and techniques she incorporates into her classroom.
Thank you, Mrs. Kees. Thank you for all you’ve done and do for all the students in your care. Thank you to teachers and administrators everywhere that see children as they really are and help them grow into their authentic selves.