Saturday, March 25, 2017

Being the Best Authentic Teacher I Can Be

It’s Spring Break and I’ve had the privilege of spending it at home with my loves.  I’ve cooked a lot.  I’ve given my closet a spring makeover, cleaned my classroom, and had the pleasure of spending time at the 2017 Teacher Blogger Retreat. 

I was so excited because Principal Gerry was scheduled to be there.  I drove the beautiful country drive to French Lick listening to a Jerry Archer book on my I-Phone.   (Seriously, if you haven’t tried audio books, give it a try.  It’s addictive.)  I arrived, found a parking spot and began to search for the correct entrance.  The place is both beautiful and enormous.  As I was wandering around, I decided to make a stop in the restroom while I wasn’t surrounded by noisy crowds.  As I made my way inside, I noticed a gentleman sitting down the hall from where I was standing.  I immediately recognized him as the one, the only, Principal Gerry!  I immediately text my teacher friend (on vacation in Florida) and sent her my sneaky pic of him.  She answered right back just as excited as I was.  I mustered the courage to walk up to him.  He was, at that point, sitting with his back to the hall, trying to get his zen on before his lecture.  Even though I totally interrupted his quiet time, he was super nice and posed for a picture with me.  I quickly made an exit not wanting to steal any more of his quiet time and found my way to the crowded area of the retreat. 

Principal Gerry...Trying to get his Zen on.

I stood in line to register and received a super neat tote bag filled with cool goodies!  The organizers sure know the way to a teacher’s heart.  The Scentos company was super cool and donated a ton of goodies for the retreat.  I met some super friendly bloggers while waiting for the doors to open.    I sat with one of my fourth grade teacher friends and settled in for the hilarious Principal Gerry.  Guys…you have to understand.  He is my salvation sometimes on cranky days.  I sit during prep and listen and laugh with him and readjust my attitude on those days. 
A teacher's dream!  Scented markers galore!

He took the stage and I was in for a surprise.  First his name isn’t pronounced Jerry…his name is Gary…I know, right?  He has zero accent.  Zero.  I have more of an accent remaining from living in Arkansas than he has.  Zilch.  Nada.  I listened to him and was surprised to find him…not just funny, but inspirational.  I was prepared to laugh until I cried and to feel like I’d been to a comedy show.  Yes.  He was still hilarious, but he was warm, honest, and made me feel like he was an old friend.  When he left the stage I felt a renewed sense of hope for my profession.  He reminded me of the importance of loving kids, not just worrying about test scores, but truly loving them.  I’m an even bigger fan after listening to him. 

He was followed by Hope and Wade King.  They are a husband and wife that both teach at the Ron Clark Academy.  Their subject was student engagement.  They began their segment walking around the ballroom and standing on chairs to talk to us and keep our attention.  They were high energy and seemed to care about teaching.  Don’t get me wrong.  They were sweet, genuine people.  I just wasn’t feeling the connection.  Hope talked about being high energy, creating room décor that would engage students, playing games to excite them, and Mr. King got out his electric guitar to show us how to turn popular songs into cheers.  Beautiful people, but again, I just wasn’t buying it.  I finished my day learning a lot and enjoying myself, but I left with this nagging sense of…something.  I wasn’t sure what.

I got home and shared my day with my husband, who is also a teacher, and tried to relay to him that feeling that I had.  I got online and researched Hope King.  I also researched the Ron Clark Academy.  They spend an average of $18,000 per student.  They interview, literally hundreds of students to fill spots of less than fifty.  Their parents have to commit to a grand number of hours of volunteer work within the school to keep their child’s place, and the work load for students is mind boggling.  No doubt, it is a success.  No doubt, their formula works.  They have trampolines, slides, and music blaring as you walk into the school.  Each room is elaborately decorated in themes to engage the students.  One room even has a car inside of it!  Trying to compare the money they spend turning classrooms into an Alice in Wonderland, or a Mario Brothers Video Game just isn’t feasible to a public school teacher.  We are already underpaid and overworked.  Now I have to stand on chairs, play an electric guitar, and make my classroom look like a video game.  WHAT!? 

Here's what I learned from all of this.  While Wade and Hope King were inspiring and incredibly talented, they don’t have all the answers.  No one does.  We are all the same.  We are all just people doing the best that we can.  There is no “one size fits all.”  Principal Gerry is just a person who wanted to inspire his teachers during testing time so he made silly videos that went viral.  Ron Clark is just a person who found himself in a hopeless teaching situation and wanted to make a difference in the lives of kids one step at a time.  We are all just people and we can all make a difference in our own way.   A wise teacher, Mrs. Peggy Stark, once said, “It’s easy.  Just make them love school.”  That’s really the root of it all.  Love our students, and give them a love of learning.  If I tried to be Hope King it would appear manufactured and false.  I have to be me and love my kids to the very best of my ability.  This retreat inspired me to go back and be the best I can be.  I want to engage my students with my own love of learning and pass that along to them.  I want to inspire my students to be lifelong learners.  That’s what it’s all about.  People inspiring young people to go, grow, and do. 

It’s been a fantastic spring break and I feel renewed and invigorated.  A big thanks to all the organizers of the 2017 French Lick Blogger Retreat.  We’ll be back!

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