Mark Twain said, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
Throughout my education, I was very fortunate to be surrounded by remarkable teachers who embodied this quote. My sixth-grade teacher, for example, led me to what I consider to be a defining moment in my life. She convinced me to enter the Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest and taught me that my words could do something beyond our classroom. I won the contest and went on to win several other events, both locally and in the Governor’s Cup Competition. For a little girl living in a small community in Southeastern Kentucky, this experience was huge. My teachers continually gave me the knowledge and tools to do what I wanted no matter what it might be or when it needed to be done.
From the Library Club during school to the Academic Team after school, there were always so many ways to connect me to school through my own interests. Now, as a language arts teacher, I am very passionate about teaching my students to enjoy reading and writing, but I also want them to feel a connection and sense of belonging so they want to be at school and flourish there. To do this, I know I need to hook them through their own interests and inspire the greatness Mark Twain refers to in his quote.
I am a firm believer in George Evans’ quote that “every student can learn, just not on the same day, or the same way.” Sometimes this means using many activities both in school and after school to help students find their niche. While sport activities are always available, not all students are athletic and by their very nature, teams cannot include every student.
However, every student needs to be included outside of the regular classroom in some way in their school. One way we do this at Corbin Middle School is through club day. Each Friday students meet with a club that they selected at the beginning of the year. The clubs vary and include everything from photography to the environmental club, PRIDE. By including club day in our weekly schedule all students are able to be involved. The clubs’ primary focus is to engage students, but many clubs help students develop standards-based skills that link directly back to the classroom.
My club, Redhound Readergirlz, an all-female book club, does community service, including an annual Read Across America Day at Corbin Primary School where the students read to and teach classes. It is wonderful to see girls who would not speak at the beginning of the year leading a Primary class by March. I realize the club is not solely responsible for the girls increased literacy skills and self-confidence.
But when you consider that this type of mentoring is happening in every club throughout our building and every child is included based on their choice of club that is exciting. Clubs provide the hook and the connecting line that make students feel that they are an important part of their school.
Beyond the school day clubs, there are countless ways to snag the interest of students after school. Programs like the academic team, Mathcounts, Governor’s Cup, Science Olympiad, Odyssey of the Mind and the Kentucky YMCA Youth Association provide outstanding creative outlets for students.
I recently had a new experience with the Kentucky United Nations Assembly (KUNA) Conference that blew me away. I became the KUNA advisor at my school this year and attended the KUNA Conference for the first time. Sadly, although my district has participated in KUNA for years, I knew very little about it. It is sponsored by the Kentucky YMCA Youth Association, a fantastic organization that offers several other student opportunities throughout the year in addition to KUNA. (To learn more about these visit their site http://kyymca.org.)
While at KUNA I saw students reading, writing, discussing and then debating, speaking and presenting their ideas in front of as many as 1,100 students and advisors. As students displayed professionalism all around me, my mind clicked through the new standards, and I lost count of all standards covered in this one experiential event.
I am fortunate. I work at a school that consistently engages all students and creates a sense of belonging that keeps them involved in school. I hope you have these opportunities available, but I realize that in this time of cutbacks they are sometimes not a priority. So, if not, be that awesome teacher who creates them for your students. Consider adding a club day to your schedule, talk to your Gifted and Talented Coordinator about the many programs out there and check out those mentioned above. Before you know it you’ll be reeling in students and leading them to greatness.
Kristal Doolin, a language arts teacher at Corbin Middle School in the Corbin Independent school district, was named the 2013 Teacher of the Year on Oct. 17, 2012. During her year-long reign, Doolin will write a monthly column for Kentucky Teacher that chronicles her experience as a classroom teacher. The column runs the second Thursday of each month.