By Kellie Jones
“Is this a keeper, something to pass on or just trash?” I asked myself as I rummaged through yellowed, dusty and disorganized files. I attempted to empty full storage cabinets and boxes of materials, but I found myself pondering more than moving the items to their new location.
This year, our elementary school relocated to a newer building. When the first semester ended, our school boxed up our classrooms and met together again at our new location after the Christmas break.
The move was exciting, but somewhat bittersweet. Many memories were made in that building. It was the building in which I began my career of teaching. A classroom full of desks, chairs and 24 anxious children greeted me that first year. Those students were less anxious than their new teacher. I recall the pride that I felt with the completion of my education degree and landing a new job, yet the nervousness and feeling of inadequacy on that first day felt very real.
That building watched me grow as an educator. It saw the failed lessons, successful lessons, struggles with student relationships, and many trials and errors with classroom management procedures. Each experience has been embedded in my memory. Now when I left that building 25 years later, my confidence has grown as my knowledge of educating children has increased.
If the walls could talk, what would they reveal? Probably a lot of mischievousness that teachers did not see and probably wouldn’t want to know about. But could they also reveal to us the most important, productive times in education, the moments that made a difference in the education of a person?
As I reflected upon the mounds of materials and files, my mind went back through my experiences teaching 2nd-, 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-graders over the past 25 years. I recalled KIRIS, CATS, Program of Study, writing portfolios, open response, performance tasks, math portfolios and various reading and math programs that were the “in thing” to use at one time or another.
I wondered, which of these programs really made a difference in the lives of my students? What was their takeaway?
What I have come to realize as I near the last season of my career is that in the past 25 years, my students seem to remember the moments that incorporated their senses and emotions. Those emotions were the hook that embedded a concept into their mind.
When I was named the 2017 Kentucky Elementary School Teacher of the Year in October, there was an outpouring of support from my community. I received countless Facebook messages, emails, texts, gifts and cards from my former students, parents and community leaders and residents. Many messages from my students carried a common theme, “I’ll always remember …” or “I’ll never forget the time that you …”
The experiences that they referred to included hands-on activities where the students actually became active learners. They remembered the lessons that often included messes, a lot of laughter and sometimes food or music. Former students shared that they not only had positive memories about the lessons, but they also had positive memories about the atmosphere of the classroom. Parents also relayed unforgettable stories that their child shared at home at the dinner table.
While shopping at a local store, a parent of one of my students approached me. She began to thank me for the positive experiences that her child was having. She shared with me details that her child often talked about in their home. The joy she felt was expressed through the excitement in her voice.
My students had been challenged to research the body structures of animals as they are used for survival. In groups, they were to collaborate and create an interactive way to share their knowledge with other students that would visit our classroom’s “animal museum.” Her child’s personal experience was expressed in specific details, including the child’s explanation to her family about her help in creating a life-size African elephant ear that her group would use as a demonstration.
The mother continued to tell me about the excitement that her child had about the upcoming presentation and how she had purposely chosen the perfect outfit for the occasion and said, “This is something that she will never forget!” Hearing those words confirmed for me that this approach was a keeper.
I believe that the most important thing that we as teachers can do is to take into consideration how we make our students feel and how we present content. As I prepare a lesson, I often refer to the old Chinese proverb, “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”
We as teachers should provide opportunities for students to explore, build experiences and find their passions in an atmosphere in which they feel supported, valued and capable. Programs come and programs go, and I think that cycle always will continue in the teaching profession. We will train, purchase and invest our time in seemingly endless new programs.
Education trends may come and go, but the children are the same learners. Students may come with different experiences – and it’s important to keep up with the changing times – but connect with them on an emotional level and you will have an experience that remains embedded in their hearts and minds. As poet Maya Angelou said in one of my favorite quotes: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Kellie Jones teaches 4th-grade project-based science at Taylor County Intermediate School. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree at Campbellsville University and also holds her Rank 1. She is the 2017 Kentucky Elementary Teacher of the Year.