Teachers with the Courage to Giveby Jackie Waldman
"Each of us remembers the teacher who made a difference in our lives -- the special person who has given us a glimpse of what we may accomplish or who we may become," says Jackie Waldman in Teachers with the Courage to Give. In this book, Waldman, author of Teens with the Courage to Give and America, September 11th, The Courage to Give, shares the stories of forty-two… See more details below
"Each of us remembers the teacher who made a difference in our lives -- the special person who has given us a glimpse of what we may accomplish or who we may become," says Jackie Waldman in Teachers with the Courage to Give. In this book, Waldman, author of Teens with the Courage to Give and America, September 11th, The Courage to Give, shares the stories of forty-two incredible teachers who go beyond the call of duty to make a powerful difference in the lives of their students. Meet Trish Hill, who underwent radiation and chemotherapy without missing even one day of school because her first graders gave her strength and courage, and Francis Mustapha, a teacher born in a small village in Africa, who shows students what it truly means to succeed. These dedicated teachers are an inspiration to us all.
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Teachers with the Courage to Give
Everyday Heroes Makig a Difference in Our Classrooms
By JACKIE WALDMAN
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2002 Jackie Waldman
All rights reserved.
Slithering into a Child's Heart
Pam Schmidt Thunder Ridge Middle School Aurora, Colorado
I'm running a little late. The kids are already here at my classroom door, waiting to get in to take care of the snakes. Lots of chatter and laughter. Searching for my keys, I nearly throw off the delicate balance of my bags of books and papers. A usual Friday morning so far!
Finally I get the door open, and we swirl into the room, the kids all dashing for their favorite snakes. The kids are good about taking care of all of our thirty-eight snakes, but each seems to have a favorite. Some of these young caretakers are kids who gained an interest in snakes through my enrichment mini-course called "Slithers." Others are kids who are in my regular science classes. Still others are kids I've never had in class but who applied for caretaker positions when I "advertised" in the school announcements. My caretakers are a diverse bunch of kids—timid sixth graders, silly seventh graders, and cool eighth graders. We have kids who are part of the "in crowd" and kids who have no crowd at all; very good students and average students and students who have never earned higher than a D; kids who love school and kids who only come to school because of their "snake job." But here, in this classroom, with these snakes, they all belong. They are a cohesive group with a common mission. Each child has important responsibilities and knows that others are depending on him or her to fulfill those responsibilities.
I am busy with the early morning before-class duties—as routine as anything can get in the hormone-heavy halls of a middle school. Writing the day's activities on the chalkboard, accepting some late papers, settling a dispute on whose turn it is to clean that really poopy cage, getting out some more materials for today's lab, helping my teammate's substitute find seating charts, and administering medicine to one of our ailing snakes.
Among all the other talking, squealing, laughing, and jabbering, I hear a heartbreaking cry of distress. Everything else becomes secondary—someone or something is hurting. As I rush across the room, I can tell that something has happened to Cherokee, our beloved Eastern hognose snake that we rescued some years ago from certain starvation. Getting closer, I can see Cherokee's glossy black body sprawled stiffly across his cage floor. He is obviously dead, and it doesn't take much work to figure out what happened. Cherokee still has a partially regurgitated frog lodged in his throat. Something caused him to throw up his food and he asphyxiated. It happened during the night so no one was around to help him.
This is our first totally unexpected death, and the kids don't know how to react. How should they express their shock, their grief? Just then, I look across the table at Rachel. As our eyes meet, her face begins to crumple.
You see, Rachel is having a very rough week. Her grandfather, with whom she had been very close, has recently died. Her entire family was supposed to have driven back for the funeral, to Iowa, I believe. But, a couple days ago we had a terrible snowstorm, so Rachel's mom flew back alone. Rachel has been putting up a brave front for two days now, but this is more than her little heart can take. Bursting into tears, she sobs over this brutal twist of fate with Cherokee, for her mother who traveled to the funeral alone, and for her lost grandfather. My tears are not far behind. As I hold Rachel in my arms, we become enveloped in the arms of the other caretakers, tears in their eyes as well. By our crying, Rachel and mine, we have given the rest of the kids permission to express their grief openly.
We all had a good cry that morning. Then we were able to do what needed to be done to take care of Cherokee's body, to finish up with the other snakes, and to carry on with the rest of the day. We were able to do these things because we were there for each other.
Cherokee's death sent ripples out to the larger school community. Many hearts were touched that day. Many of the teachers and parents finally realized that a snake could be just as meaningful in a child's life as a dog or a cat. People finally saw our snakes as I see them, not just as interesting creatures, but as the tools with which I reach otherwise unreachable children.
Snakes are one of my passions, along with fossils and rocks and rainforests, and many things "scientific." I share my passions with my students, and they join me in the excitement of learning about these things. No, they are not all going to grow up to be herpetologists, paleontologists, or scientists of any kind. But my kids will remember the enthusiasm we shared—and maybe, just maybe, they will take that passion for learning and caring into their future endeavors. It's that very possibility that makes this career worthwhile.
The Power of a Smile
Carol Rosner Nassau County BOCES (Board of Cooperative Education) Bellmore, New York
I've been a teacher of the deaf and hard-of-hearing for more than thirty years. It was not where I had envisioned being, but the opportunity to have the government pay for my master's degree was an opportunity I could not afford to pass up. In all my years of teaching, many special students and their families have touched my life. A few have touched my soul.
Perhaps the one student who stands out above all the rest is Eddie. Eddie is a multiple-handicapped young man who became my student at age twelve. In addition to being deaf, he has cerebral palsy and had a tracheotomy because of early breathing problems. He needed a wheelchair, and it took quite a while to find the proper school to meet all his needs. Eventually, Eddie was placed at our school with a full-time nurse, speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and me!
I'll never forget the first time I laid eyes on him. He was an incredibly happy, handsome youngster with the warmest smile I had ever seen. I remember thinking that if anyone were to take away that most remarkable smile they would have to answer to me. Together we shared a remarkable journey. It might help the reader to understand that Eddie was one of a set of twins. At birth his older brother was delivered just fine, but Eddie's delivery was more complicated. Eddie was blessed with an extremely supportive family who were determined to do everything in their power to expose him to the widest degree of stimulation possible.
In Eddie's school, all the students were very needy, and Eddie's grimaces and spastic movements kept people away. His speech was unintelligible, and he knew little sign language. We started to work on sign language, including those words that were helpful with his daily skills. Soon Eddie wanted to learn about everything!
We started to follow current affairs and local news. He wanted names for all the people in his school and what their jobs were. He needed to know about me and my family and what we did. And so it went and so it grew. Then came the computer. Suddenly a way existed for Eddie to explore the world independently. Despite his spastic movements, he was able to steady his hand enough to use the keyboard. We started with the simple language programs and games he could just have fun with.
At this point I wanted to get the people in Eddie's school to interact with him. So I decided to put a word with the corresponding hand-sign on the back of his wheelchair, with an invitation to "stop and learn the sign of the day." A large "happy face" accompanied the announcement. Initially, people were not sure what to make of us. But, slowly, their curiosity encouraged them to inquire about what was going on, and the connection was made. Suddenly, people began to communicate with him and be enchanted by his contagious smile. Eddie became the hot ticket in school! His wonderful smile lit the building. People who had been afraid to talk to him now sought him out. He wasn't so scary—in fact, he was really nice when they gave him a chance.
Eddie's pleasure grew as he became more accepted and connected to his peers. As a teen, he was very age-appropriate in his need for acceptance and social skills. He liked pretty girls and attended all the school dances and other activities. At the age of eighteen he graduated, and I was among those who clapped furiously and cried a lot.
Today, Eddie participates in a day program with some vocational training. He has a girlfriend and aspires to all the things to which most youths aspire.
Whenever I am down, or feeling sorry for myself, I only have to think about Eddie and what he has to deal with on a daily basis. If he can smile, then I certainly can.
The Doer of Good Becomes Good
Ron Poplau Shawnee Mission Northwest High School Shawnee Mission, Kansas
The school administration assured me that my new Community Service class would "make" even though enrollment was low. "Summer transfers will fill the class," the associate principal promised. This was going to be a class like no other—the dream of my career! It would be based totally on a student's trust and initiative; I'd be taking students out of the building and into the community for an hour a day, with special projects in the evening and on weekends. To my dismay, only four students met me on that first fall Monday. Wendy, unfortunately, was one of them. "No way can we have this class with so few students," I said in a defeated tone. Wendy, reeking of cigarette smoke, with unkempt hair and torn jeans, confronted my disappointment with the promise that she would get a roomful of students for me in just three days. Her reputation as a drug addict preceded her, and I could only imagine whom she would attract; after all she had floundered miserably for three years until finally dropping out completely. She had returned this year only to please her father.
You can imagine my utter astonishment when, by Thursday, she had recruited thirteen more students—problem-free and eager to build the new class. It was obvious Wendy was a force with which to be reckoned.
Wendy's story was all too familiar: This once-gifted child's world had been shattered by her parent's divorce, for which she blamed herself—and pot, acid, and Ecstasy filled in the hurt. Even changing school districts and a diminished daily schedule did not help. For a while Wendy would sneak out of her home nightly to rendezvous with fellow "druggies." Her mom would set her alarm clock for every two hours to check on her and, not finding her in bed, would frantically search, find her somewhere in the city, and retrieve her from certain disaster.
Where could I possibly send Wendy? Who would open their door to such a disturbed child? Now that I had the class, could I risk it all? Could Wendy be trusted?
At Wendy's insistence, we put an advertisement in the local paper listing our services, which were free. Suddenly, like the proverbial "big bite" for a fisherman, one family requested assistance, and then others followed suit. There was no denying that this was Wendy's class, and she led the other sixteen. She found plumbers who donated their services; money for utility bills appeared after numerous calls from Wendy. She single-handedly turned this class on and turned her life around. She began to give things away from her own home to folks in need. "I almost had to tie the refrigerator down," her mother told me. "Wendy wanted to give it away. But how could I say No; I was getting my child back. I had been praying for this moment. Her grades started to rise, her attendance was almost perfect, her drug use ceased!"
To the amazement of everyone, this young lady of privilege, whose only concern for months had been taking drugs, began to sit on dirty floors, fight off cockroaches, and spend hours with numerous less fortunate families. Suddenly it was other people's well-being that mattered more that anything else to her. To top it all off, she even chose the class motto: "The Doer of Good Becomes Good!"
Choices had to be made: the prom or a crucial speaking engagement. It took only minutes for Wendy to choose the speaking engagement.
The yearlong class itself did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Soon came award nominations: Prudential, Noxzema, the Kansas City Star, Kiwanis, Optimist, Sertoma.s Even J. C. Penney nominated the class for its Golden Rule Award.
Flanked by the principal, the class sponsor, and Wendy's doting mother, I listened as the awards were presented. When our class was chosen for the first prize, I said to Wendy, "You go up with the principal; it's your award." Wendy rose, shoulders back, and acknowledged the standing ovation. Mom was in tears as she witnessed the transformation of her daughter.
Suddenly, graduation was a mere month away, and students were encouraged to sign up to speak at the evening ceremony. To the surprise of many, Wendy was first on the list. On the evening of graduation, Wendy rose to address a crowd of 6,000 people. Five minutes of sheer eloquence mesmerized the packed house. Her metamorphosis was complete—the doer of good had become good! That night as I prepared for bed I thanked God, for the class had changed Wendy and so many others. Wendy learned the simple lesson that what we do for others comes back more than a hundredfold. Now she would live life to the fullest.
Over at Wendy's house, her mother's alarm clock was not set for the usual two-hour check. It never would be again.
Chris Pendergast Dickenson Avenue Elementary East Northport, New York
I'd always thought myself to be a decent teacher. I loved my work and threw myself into it. For twenty-three years, I crafted my trade and honed my skills. By age forty-four, I was a seasoned and competent educator. Life, both personal and professional, had developed a rich fullness, like a ripening fruit in the warmth of summer's sun. Then, on a dank, drizzling October eve, a call came from my neurologist, a call that made my world implode. "I am sorry to tell you, but you have ALS." ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) is a rapidly progressing neuromuscular disease with no known cause, treatment, or cure. It runs its nasty, paralyzing course in an average of a brief two to three years. I was sentenced to die.
The first of many choices I faced was how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. It was not exactly a yes/no question. Quite early, I made my decision. My life was good. I wouldn't change a thing. In spite of the challenges to come, I knew I wanted to continue teaching.
Little did I realize that this darkest hour would produce my brightest moments. As I began to publicly battle ALS, my class, my school, and my district became my allies as I shifted from teacher to learner, from leader to explorer. We all became a team, learning life's important lessons together.
Part of my teaching assignment in the gifted and talented program is the operation of a mini-nature center called the Habitat House. It houses many animal species gathered for children in a living laboratory. Students assume a wide range of animal-care tasks. Lunch periods find my room a veritable beehive of activity. Like worker drones, children incessantly move about tending to their charges. A large magnetic chalkboard ruled off into a grid serves as the master scheduler. It lists a myriad of feeding details including animal names, cage numbers, food types, and amounts. Each animal has a small square magnet occupying the last square of the grid. It is coded with red on one side and green on the other. When a student scans the board for a task to complete, they immediately are directed to which jobs need to be done—they're green. Upon selection of a particular "green" job, the student must turn the magnet to red, signaling "Stop" to other children.
Excerpted from Teachers with the Courage to Give by JACKIE WALDMAN. Copyright © 2002 Jackie Waldman. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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