Who Inspired You?

I wrote an entirely different blog post for this week, which I’d planned on posting this afternoon, when I got sidetracked by a conversation I had with a parent at school today. This mom came in as our Mystery Reader, and she chose a book called A Letter to My Teacher. It was a sweet story about a teacher who made a difference in a child’s life, and the child’s memories of this special teacher.

After reading, we talked about her book choice. This parent explained to me that she saw it in the bookstore and thought it had such an important message about honoring teachers and the work we do. She went on to say that it brought back memories for her of teachers who inspired her when she was growing up. I told her that I have a few teachers who I remember vividly, and asked her, “Who stands out for you? Who do you remember making a difference in your life?” She explained that she had an 8th grade math teacher who recognized her ability in math and gave her a different, more advanced, textbook to work from. Instead of keeping her on par with the rest of the class, he knew that she was ready for more and gave her the tools to learn more challenging concepts. She credits this teacher as the first to notice her aptitude for math and science, which set her on the path to a successful career as a physician.

Of course, this conversation made me think of the teachers who I remember vividly, who inspired me:

  • I remember quite clearly my Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Karp, who had a bathtub in her classroom that we could sit in. She read us There’s a Carp in the Bathtub at the beginning of the school year, to connect the bathtub to her name. She used to always say, “I love you like crazy!” After moving to a new school (and into her classroom) hallway through the my Kindergarten year, I remember her calm, loving nature, and how she took care of me at a tough time.

  • My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Collins, read The Witches aloud to our class. For the chapter on how to spot a witch, she dyed her teeth blue, scratched her head often, and complained about her aching feet. If you don’t get the joke, get yourself a copy of the book and read it to your kids— you won’t regret it!

  • My math skills were never strong, but I faltered badly in middle school and landed myself in a ninth grade remedial math class. Ms. Chadwick, my teacher, was patient and soft-spoken. She explained math to me in a way I understood, and brought it down to my level to help me understand the concepts. I was her star pupil that year and learned the pre-algebra skills I had not understood the year before.

  • Mr. Pignone taught law at my high school. I took his class my junior year. He taught me the importance of note-taking and study skills (“Take copious notes!” was his motto). He also took our class on an unforgettable field trip to the county jail, which definitely scared me straight, and I never got in trouble during my high school career.

  • During a student teaching experience in first grade, my cooperating teacher (whose name escapes me at this moment, but who I can picture so clearly), taught me that making your voice softer, instead of louder, works magic in getting children’s attention.

I had forgotten some of these memories until today, and I could certainly list more. Teachers make a difference in their students’ lives (remember Brooke’s Flourish post?), and I know we make a difference with our kids every day.

Which teachers do you remember? Who inspired you?

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Samantha Steinberg serves Trinity School as a Second Grade Teacher

Anyone can Change

Every teacher waits for that “Ah Ha” moment, where you see a student’s face light up with joy when they achieve success.  In my fifteen years of teaching, I have taken countless hours of professional development, learning tips and tricks to manage a classroom that has my students engaging in meaningful conversation, deep learning, and a fun and safe learning environment.  I have seen a wide variety of student behaviors from the stringent rule followers to the occasionally disruptive, to the downright rude and unapologetic student. Usually, after a few parent phone calls, emails, or conversations with the student, the behavior generally turns around, even if it is just a few days.

This year was different. I quickly learned that one student was going to be a hard nut to crack.  I knew I had to make some kind of connection with him, but my bag of tricks weren’t working for him.  He brought in a picture of him on a snowmobile to share with the class.  I chatted with him about it and got pretty much nothing. No real excitement out of his experience.  I don’t know about you, but if I had the opportunity to ride one of those, I would be sharing that experience with everyone like a child talks about Christmas morning.  Ok, no big deal. Let’s try compliments. Every morning, the students write about different National Day topics ranging from National Pancake Day, National Travel Day, National Do a Grouch a Favor Day and many other interesting topics.  My students love coming in each morning to see what they are writing about and receiving compliments from the class.  Seeking to praise his writing, I saw nothing but silliness and goofing off.  I took him out in the hall and asked him why he wasn’t following the different prompt questions in his writing.  He just shrugged his shoulders and told me his writing was funny, and he wanted to make the class laugh.

During a variety of lessons in small groups, using laptops and Nearpod, and whole group instruction, this student would not take anything seriously.  From the calling out inappropriate comments, teasing other students, playing with pencils and glue sticks, and drawing in his notebook, nothing was off limits.  It was heartbreaking to see a child, who clearly had so much potential, act like this.  He has parents who care about him and have partnered with me to create a platform for success.  Calm, nurturing conversations with my student were not working at all.  I have been doing this since August to no avail.  It was the same old behavior, lesson after lesson, day after day, and week after week.  I finally had enough.

Winter conferences were here.  Going through all of my conferences and taking last minute notes of talking points I wanted to hit with parents, I came across his name.  For the first time, I truly couldn’t think of many positive things to say. It was all about behavior, not taking responsibility in class, and not working to potential.  Emails home had not worked, conversations weren’t working, and positive discipline had failed.  Something needed to be done.  There had been too much adult effort without change.

As he and Mom walked into my room for conferences, I was nervous because I knew what needed to be done.  I knew he needed to hear the harsh truth, and I wouldn’t sugar coat it.   It went against everything I had done in my year and a half at Trinity.  As he began to speak about his strengths and what he liked at school, it was very basic.  “I like PE because I’m good at it.  I like Wagon Train because it’s fun.” As he spoke, I could feel my frustrations surfacing.  How could this child, with fantastic potential and obvious enjoyment of our classroom, give such a blasé answer to his mom and me about school?

Finally, it was my turn to talk. I started out by telling him I appreciate his thoughts on his learning.  I handed him his warm-up journal, the very same one he writes in each day when he comes into school.  I opened to an already marked page.  The prompt was, “If you were a bird and could fly anywhere in the world, where would you go?  What would you see?  How would you feel?” I asked him to start reading.  “If I was a bird, I would fly to New York and fly into people’s windshields and make them crash.” Then the water works came.  He couldn’t finish.  I didn’t let up.  I turned to another marked page and had him read.  “If someone was bullying someone, I would threaten them with a toy gun and toy knife.  If they kept doing it, that’s your problem.” Uncontrollable crying.  I flipped to a few more pages which I already highlighted and showed his mom.  She was in shock.  It was now a teacher-led conference, with me placing a mirror in front of him, revealing all of his negative actions, pealing away layers that exposed the truth about his behavior. As we wrapped the conference up, my parting words were those of encouragement.  “I know that somewhere inside of you, you want to do well.  You have the ability to behave, to enjoy class, to learn from others.”  Mom thanked me up and down for this conference.  As they left, I shut the door and asked my assistant, was I too much?  Did I cross a line?  “You did what needed to be done,” she answered.

It has been six weeks since conferences. I can count on one hand the amount of times I have had to speak to him about negative behaviors.  His writing has dramatically turned around.  There are no more silly, inappropriate comments in his writing.  He now frequently shares with the class.  His table has won our weekly challenge two of the first three weeks because he has been a main contributor with clean up, organization, and helping his table mates.  His notebooks have been much more organized.  He is smiling in class.  I have been pointing this out to him privately and in front of the class.  Just last week, I congratulated his table for winning again, and I thanked him for helping them do so.  The class started clapping and went over to thank him.  His smile couldn’t have been bigger.  I truly hope that this continues throughout the rest of the year and on through his academic career.  It’s so much more fun and enjoyable for him to be a positive member of class, rather than seek the spotlight negatively.

Perhaps, I’ve learned you have until the very last minute to impact and reach a child.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Brian Toth serves the Trinity School community as 4th Grade lead teacher.

Flourishing: A Trinity Journey

Needless to say, I have done more than my share of reflecting this past week as Sarah prepared to graduate. The last nine years of my daughter’s life have been spent at Trinity School. With each passing year, I watched her engage with the faculty carefully chosen to support the learners at each stage of development. I watched her experience the curriculum and activities that we as a school had developed to help students build a strong academic and character foundation, cherish childhood, empower learners, deepen experiences and to cultivate curiosity, creativity, and confidence. All of this was designed to help students flourish. It’s a lovely tagline, evoking a picture of life unfolding. The marketing strategy is more than a clever draw on one’s heartstrings. A Trinity journey results in students who flourish. I know. I watched it happen.

Sarah entered the Butterfly class, full of delight and activity. She was disinterested in coloring in the lines, often failed to follow instructions, and was busy when she was supposed to be sitting still. At the same time, she loved the roly polys she found at recess, cherished dress up time, and devoured the lunches – as her clothes clearly showed each afternoon. Reading came hard and slow for her. Her classmates zoomed ahead. Learning Team members intervened to support her, yet she still lagged behind. Friendships lagged as well. It was hard to be different. I often wondered if perhaps she wasn’t a good fit at Trinity. Sarah could do math with ease, and she loved art and music. But still the reading and writing kept her from feeling like she was a student.

Third Grade came and our lives changed in an instant with the death of her father. It was the Trinity family who made sure my daughter was okay. Miss Paige bought her art supplies, knowing how she loved to draw and perhaps drawing would help her sort out her feelings. Miss Coote showered her with love and encouragement. Miss Suzanne wrote her a note about her own loss at the age of 9. Ms. Hansen honored the math student that she was so proud to be. Reading was still the enemy, and she was even further behind due to the emotional toll and lack of progress.

Fourth Grade. A year that I had dreaded as a parent, knowing that the amount of reading and writing increased. Knowing that friendships become even more difficult for girls. Knowing that reading would impact the math student she was so proud to be. A diagnosis of dyslexia, flair pens introduced by Miss Nims, new methods of taking notes shared by Mrs. Dickey, Mrs. Lynah, a devoted Trinity teacher who tutored her with gusto, and Learning Ally turned her story around. Day-by-day, she gained confidence as a reader. For the fourth year in a row, her teachers had carefully placed her with her dear friend who loved her for who she was, and she had new opportunities to show what she knew in different ways. All of a sudden, she started talking like a student, sharing what she was learning, seeking information, choosing to read. She worked hard. So hard.

Fast forward to her Leadership year. Cobalt blue. Meaningful school field trips and outdoor education trips. Student Council. Carnegie Hall. Tours for prospective parents. Taking tours at prospective secondary schools. Projects where art and creativity were honored. Opportunities to think differently. Opera. Capstone about the advantages of dyslexia! And this week. . . Graduation.

Each year, growth as a learner. Each year, growth as a friend. Each year, growth as a thinker. Each year, opportunities to shine in her own way. As I have reflected upon her journey at Trinity School, and I have shed more than a few tears at this loss of childhood, I have been immensely proud of the school that has shaped Sarah, allowing her to stretch and honoring the gifts she brings so joyfully. Thank you, Trinity School, for helping my girl flourish.


Learner, Thinker, Writer: Maryellen Berry serves the Trinity Community as the Upper Elementary Division Head.

A Song in the Spotlight

It’s the final stretch. I can see summer’s promise of mornings lazing in my PJs, afternoons lost to the hammock and a book, and evenings’ dark freckled by fireflies. But between me and all the splendid serenity of summer are progress reports.  And Graduation rehearsals.  And Fun and Field Day.  And Morning of Memories.  And the kickball game.  And final reflections for MyLearning.  And, and, and!

This is a time of year when I often feel rushed or to feel the desire to speed through final things that seem to be standing in the way of my well-deserved break. It’s easy to think, “Ugh! The kickball game is coming up. It’s going to be so hot out there. I don’t know why we bother.” Or, “I’ll just throw this in their MyLearning as a final piece. The parents don’t even look at these anyway.” I’ve been at this job for a while. I’ve seen it all. I know what to expect in these last weeks and from these kids.

But, last Thursday morning, I was reminded of something very important during the student performance of “Carmen.”

Heather F. as Micaela. Photo by Paul Ward

Our Micaela began singing her aria, but the audience couldn’t hear it. Those of us who had been in the rehearsals with her for the last four weeks knew she was singing it in French, and we knew the lovely sound of her voice because we had heard it many times. But, for this almost 12-year-old chanteuse, this was her one shot to show her fellow Trinity students how hard she had been working on mastering this song. It was through the admirable actions of our talented music teachers that I was reminded of the importance of every moment for our students. While I may be returning to 6th Grade again in August, these students will never have another chance at being Trinity 6th Graders again. Dr. Chandler quickly brought her piano playing down so that the young lady might be heard. But after a few moments, Mrs. Vrieland stated, “No, she’s going to start over.”

These decisions allowed the other adults who were working as stagehands and crew to remedy the issue with the young singer’s microphone, and she was given the chance to sing her song in front of her fellow Trinitians so that it could be heard. Doesn’t every young learner deserve the chance to sing their own songs so that they can be heard, regardless of how many times we, the adults, might have heard it in practice or a similar tune before? Where are the places that we, as teachers, can bring down the competing noise or restart the song once everything is in order?

In these last weeks, I hope every one of our students is given their rightful moment in the spotlight because each moment only comes around once, and they will never again be 6th Grade stars of an opera, or 4th Grade egg safety capsule designers, or 1st Grade authors of a book on Georgia animals, or Pre-K explorers seeking a wayward pastry.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Kate Burton serves the Trinity School community as 6th Grade science teacher.