October 6, 2009

A teacher's example

By Marilyn Helms

One of the best things about working at Dalton State College is the opportunity to be a faculty member and to be a “student” in the sense you are always learning from others, including co-workers, students and former students.

This can happen regardless of where you work if you are present, aware and open to new ideas. Recently, I learned something very interesting from a former DSC graduate who is in her third year of teaching elementary school in Whitfield County. Shawna teaches third grade and is taking on-line courses to complete her master’s degree.

She is quite ambitious, earning her bachelor of science degree in early childhood education from DSC in 2009. Shawna joined an area gym and I discovered her on a treadmill next to me. It was my first week of class and I was busy memorizing my students’ names from the photo seating chart I had made.

She asked about what I was doing and I inquired about her two full years of teaching experience. She said she loved it and loved the kids. Her only regret was how quickly the academic year passed and how she felt she did not have the opportunity to get to know her students as she would have liked. She went on to mention she was making changes this year to make sure she knew each student better.

Since I was trying to learn names, faces and work experience I was very interested and asked her to tell me more. She said while many of the other teachers at her school used their 30-minute lunch break to work on paperwork, lesson plans and catch up on grading, she had decided to eat with her students. She chose two students every day at random and ate her bagged lunch with them while they enjoyed their cafeteria food. She said she had to eat anyway and this was an informal way to learn more about her students.

She went on to tell me about a particularly bright and engaged boy in her class. When she sat by him at lunch, she began by asking about his family. He told her his father was in prison but it has been so long ago he could not remember why.

He had lived in a number of foster homes and was now living in a foster home with seven other children. She had checked his permanent record and found he had missed many school days and did not complete either of the prior two years of classes. His hardships were not evident and he seemed to appreciate her extra time and attention. She also mentioned two young girls who were very shy when she asked them to sit with her. We talked about how she, at 25, seemed so very old to these nine-year-olds and how being shy was normal.

I thought more about her plan and later sent her a note on Facebook. Her extra 30 minutes of effort each day will, no doubt, have a lasting impact on these students. We could all learn from her example.

Marilyn M. Helms is the Sesquicentennial Chair and Professor of Management at Dalton State College and welcomes your comments at mhelms@daltonstate.edu.