After Angela’s first 10 years of teaching she and Dan experienced important and formative game-changer moments within a four-year period of time. Angela calls these events gift-changer moments
Gift-changer 1: Sam: I’d heard that parenting would improve my teaching, but I had no idea how. Those students who talk to me at 100 miles-an-hour about anything so they can just have me to themselves for a moment of time remind me of Sam. I could now see her in their faces, even hear her sense of humor. I used to be so annoyed by the students who would write 12 pages when I asked for a “short story” assignment. But now I just see a kid who loves language. Like the one who reads for hours on my couch.
Gift-changer 2: JoLee: When JoLee was born, my identity as “public school teacher” stopped immediately. I became JoLee’s daily speech therapist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, developmental therapist and even a nutritional therapist. I learned for the first time how natural teaching was for me, just who I am at a cellular level. Many things just made sense in how to adapt and present to JoLee. I can’t even begin to describe how much better I understand how kids learn, how concepts build and attach, and how to make things click in their brains using non-traditional methods.
Gift-changer 3: Cancer: Well, that is a loaded word all its own: Fear, pain, and, – worst of all – waiting, because a three-headed animal was often attacking my soul. Being vulnerable wasn’t something I wanted. I don’t need help. I can figure this out, I am strong. Not with cancer. I had to have help and let people in to very raw and uncensored moments. I hated that.
When I returned to Goshen Middle School for year 11, I entered thinking, “I don’t need this anymore as part of my identity – the public school part. I know I am a teacher no matter my public profession.” But something amazing happened in the classroom, the passion and desire to impact someone somehow actually happened. Not because of any extraordinary lesson plan or activity but because of Sam, JoLee, and cancer.
The more personal stories I told to make an analogy or illustrate a point, the more light bulbs started turning on in students’ heads. With that encouragement I went to a scary place. I got personal with my students, vulnerable about the hardships of raising two daughters at two ends of the learning spectrum. I shared about the fears and physical/emotional of pain of cancer.
My first year back, 10 days after school started, I had my 2nd cancer surgery. My students walked that road with me. When we wrote stories about life-changing moments, I wrote about what the surgery room looked like, smelled like, and the metallic taste in your mouth right before you go under anesthesia. When students wrote dialogue, I modeled the writing by capturing a conversation I had with then 5- year-old Sam trying to explain WHY JoLee was different.
In the next post Angela tells of the affirmations she received from her students.