Sunday, March 7, 2010

The story of "Timothy"

I am having a teacher moment. This is a long post. So bear with me.

Last August I stood at the door overly cheery welcoming my new crop of kids into my perfectly decorated classroom. Every thing was in place. I was going to have a perfect year. My room would be a community, a family, full of trust, and love for one another-not just a classroom. The kids trickled in one by one and first impressions set in. The kids first impressions of me "dang she's young" "dang she spent a lot of time on her classroom" and "dang she is overly smiley"

The bell rang, I shut the door and began to explain my expectations. My smile was not as big and all of a sudden the kids new thoughts were "dang I'm scared" Not that I was mean. I was just firm. I don't put up with whining. I don't put up with calling out without raising your hand, I don't put up with bullying and I don't put up with 70s or below.  There is no exception for failing grades or C's at that. That means I am not doing my job.

I am more than a teacher. I am a mother to some, a mediator, a janitor, Office Depot, a nurse, a manager, a counselor, a lunch money provider, entertainment, actress, an annoying motivator and the list goes on.

Well today is a story about "Timothy"

I knew we were going to have issues that first day of school last summer. While taking roll I politely ask the students to respond with "Good Morning" or "Howdy" or "" bonjour e" aaaaaaaaany thing nice and friendly other than "here".  All kids followed suit enjoying their creativity on how many ways they could say hello in another language.  Each kid trying to out do the other. Everyone- except for "Timothy". He responds with a sullen "here". The class was silent. You could hear a pin drop as they waited for my reaction to him "disobeying". I paused for a moment longer hoping he would correct himself. Alas, I again call out his name "Timothy?". He turns to me, mumbles barely audible.
"I beg your pardon" I respond.
"I said I was here!" he snaps back with attitude.
The rest of the students lower their heads in shame for him, again waiting for my reaction.
I responded to Timothy the same way I responded to the rest of the children while calling roll.
"Well good morning Timothy. I am glad you are here"

Timothy is a student in my largest class. This class if full of class clowns who need behavioral attention over academic attention. Unfortunately for Timothy he was slipping through my fingers faster than sand and I couldn't grab a hold of him. His attitude was getting worse. Whenever I asked him to do anything it was a challenge. His complaints were numerous and his excuses nonsense. He hated everyone around him, wherever he was moved, and they hated him back. Timothy and I fought everyday.

Over Thanksgiving I could not stop thinking of Timothy. I will brag a bit and say that I can make connections with students VERY easily. (It has a lot to do with my age- so I have no idea what Im going do when Im 50) But Timothy and I were really struggling to make that connection. He was failing every class with extreme behavior problems.

We had a parent conference. His mother looked just like him. She came and had to take off work that day. You can tell she really loved her son but didn't know how to help him. It turns out Timothy wasn't diagnosed with dyslexia until the end of 5th grade! DEVASTATING to a child's academic career. He has been internally coping with his reading problems the best he can without help or intervention. His frustrations of feeling like a failure have consumed him to the point of depression and anger. He hated school and I was not okay with that.

I begged my team for Timothy to get a schedule change. Barriers were built and it seemed impossible that he would get that chance. I needed him in my 2nd period class, a class of thirteen successful students whom needed little help from me. Polar opposite from my needy 1st period class of thirty. In order to do that he would need to change every class period and would need approval from every teacher. A task that seemed too daunting to be granted.

After much persuasion the teachers agreed and the counselor changed Timothy's schedule. He got the news during my first period and came back to my class in tears. He hated his schedule change. I hugged him (it was awkward- remember we don't have that connection) and assured him that it wasn't a punishment but rather a sign that we care about him and his success. He didn't believe me and wanted nothing to do with me because I was the cause of his schedule change.

Christmas break came and again I could not get Timothy off of my mind. Now that I had him where I could help am I going to do that? He doest trust me. He doesn't respect me. He doesn't even like me.

I changed my attitude with Timothy. I focused on praise rather than discipline. I was more tolerant with his disrespect and realized a lot about myself in the process. I am not patient. I am NOT patient. It was an internal battle daily. Not only was his behavior a problem but he was really LOW academically. His spelling was horrible (due to dyslexia) and he comprehended almost nothing. Later found out it was just selective hearing.

Daily I sat with Timothy and read him problems. Consciously keeping my voice calm and positive. I re-taught, pre-taught and re-taught again. He began improving. He then began asking for help and wanting that personal attention I had been giving him during the warm up. Not too long after did he start raising his hand to answer questions in class and I began to see my classroom turning into a community. He began working with the students around him without complaints and they helped him in return. It was a beautiful sight! His homework started coming in on time and he started feeling successful for the FIRST TIME in 6 years of school. He was smiling more and so was I.

I couldn't be prouder and I wanted to select him as my student for the 6 weeks to share his accomplishments in front of parents and other students at our 6 weeks ceremony. I called his mother and she was ecstatic. She took off work to make it to the morning ceremony and took pictures from the bleachers. A huge commitment for a single hard working mother.

Timothy and I chat about other things beyond school. He likes Alvin and the Chipmunks and Family odd combo I know. He talks to me about his girlfriend (another student of mine) and asked me what he should get her for Valentines Day. hehe. Timothy and I have made that connection I had been longing for! YIPEE.

But last  week was the true test on my success as a teacher (well at least in my eyes) I knew I had become and inspiration to Timothy. I knew I had become a comforter and one of his biggest fans. But could I  teach him.  A child that has difficulty reading without getting frustrated and overwhelmed. A child that fails every class and whose test scores range between a 30 and 60. Could I really really teach him?

We just wrapped up our toughest unit all year. Force and Motion. The test was 25 grueling questions with charts and graphs and calculations all meant to model the TAKS test they have to take in 8th grade.
I held my breath as Timothy took the test. I couldn't wait to grade his test...but then again I could. I was scared. He missed the first 3 questions. DAMN! Typical of a test from Timothy. This was not going to be good. then to my surprise he got every question on the next page correct. and then the next. and then missed one more. and then the last two pages CORRECT!  TIMOTHY MADE AN 84 on my test! HE PASSED! Not only did he pass but he made an 84! on the hardest test all year! I jumped on Timothy when I told him the news. We jumped up and down together (well really I was forcing him to jump because I was hugging him so tight)

We got on the phone and called his mom. She SQUEALED! I feel like a proud mother. I want to feel like this everyday. I am exhausted and need spring break desperately but his accomplishment keeps me going. This is the reason I am a teacher. For the one day a year I get to see it all work out. I am a teacher for Timothy.


Erny said...

you are such a role model teacher. really.

i bet timothy will remember you for a long time...even when he has graduated from school.

Danielle said...

i am so proud of you


so clearly my blog has taken backseat again..hopefully will write soon...hope you are doing well!

Alex said...

Um thanks for making me all teary eyed at work.


Christopher and Amanda Nash said...

ditto on alex's comment...