Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Teaching with Courage

I think ALL teachers are courageous. Often we work under less than ideal circumstances, and it seems there is never enough time, energy, or resources to do all that we would love to do. And yet we return, day after day, with determination and hearts full of hope... because we have the COURAGE to teach.

In reflecting about this post, I have realized that COURAGE comes in many different forms. It takes courage to try something new, and to try again when it doesn't work out quite the way you have planned. It takes courage to work in uncomfortable situations. It takes courage to work with difficult people. It takes courage to work in dangerous settings... whether it be weather, financial limitations, or schools and neighborhoods where kids cannot feel safe. In my opinion, it takes courage to teach children younger than eight, but I'm guessing that is based on my own personal fears!

So this entry is all about COURAGE. It is about COURAGEOUS TEACHING.

And in true TBA fashion, we want YOU to be a part of this Link-up because, after all, with the help of one another, our courage is increased... and then everyone, especially the students, benefit.

At the bottom of the post, you will find details about joining in this Linky Party! I bet teaching requires you to display courage EVERY DAY. I am SO hoping you will be BRAVE and share.

BTW, my Lionel Lion graphics (in the dividers) are from Scrappin Doodles!

With this in mind, I would like to share three examples from my teaching experience to help get you thinking about all of the times you have found your own bravery...

Example 1... When I began my teaching career, I worked with students with multiple disabilities. There were students with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and various other physical and cognitive disabilities. Although these students were in a self-contained classroom on a regular ed site, they rarely participated in whole school activities, including assemblies and "regular" lunch. It was 1984, and the summer Olympics had just concluded in Los Angeles. The local grocery stores had been selling Olympic "memory books"--glossy magazines filled with pictures of athletes and events from the Games. I arrived at school one morning to find that every teacher at our school had received a pile of handbooks to distribute to their students.  Every teacher, that is, except me. I asked the secretary why we had not received any of the magazines, and her reply was succinct: "He [the principal] didn't think your students could understand them."

I was young and naive. And, let's face it: I didn't know any better. Without a lot of thinking, I walked resolutely into his office and said, "It is one thing if you are gong to discriminate against me. But I find it deplorable that you would discriminate against my students just because they have disabilities. They may not be able to read the stories, but they can certainly enjoy the pictures just as much as any other student at this school. I hope that you will soon recognize that we intend to be equal participants on this campus." And with that, I walked out the door. Less than  five minutes later, it dawned on me that I could easily be fired for my insubordination. 

I wasn't fired. And soon afterward, my new colleagues had gotten word of my... courage. Within a few hours, we had piles of magazines supplied by teachers who had a few to spare. This visible windfall may have contributed to the look of confusion on the principal's face when he walked into my room at the end of the day, and without a word, handed me a pile of Olympic magazines--one for each student in my classroom... Courage made a difference.

Would I handle the situation exactly the same way almost thirty years later? Absolutely not. Would I find the courage to advocate for my students and champion their rights? Definitely. Sometimes courageous teaching calls us to be strong so that our students can be treated fairly and with compassion.

Example 2... My first year in general education didn't go much better than my first year in special education. After ten years of working to "include" my students with disabilities into regular education, I changed my focus and decided to teach in a general education classroom. I moved from having ten students with special needs to having thirty-six fourth graders--many of which, I quickly learned, had plenty of special needs of their own.

I didn't know most of the students with whom I would spending the school year. But by recess on that first day, I quickly became acquainted with one of my new friends as I walked him to the office after he had punched another student in the face... twice. There was still blood on his hand as I walked alongside him (and I was trying summon any courage I had in reserve to keep my voice from quavering).  I asked gently, "Is there anything  you could have done differently?" (That's what all of my "community-building" books had said to do!) His response? "At my other school, kids knew not to mess with me because I'd just kill them." "Oh!" I said, trying to hide my surprise (and maybe a little fear!). "Is there anything else I should know about you?" "Nope," he said in a matter-of-fact tone. At that moment I wasn't sure if I was BRAVE enough to teach in general ed after all!

It was a tough year, but gradually he emerged from that protective shell. We made an agreement that each week he would sit a little closer to our community circle (because obviously he wasn't going to agree to sit WITH us at the time!)  I gave him room to grow. And I had courage. Amazingly, over time, with a few set-backs along the way, he learned to trust us. And he learned to care. I could share a hundred vignettes... about how he befriended a child with diabetes and accompanied him every day when he went to test his blood sugar... about how he "borrowed" food from another kid's lunch because his friend didn't have one... about how he defended a student in our classroom who had Down syndrome from being bullied by a student from another classroom... about how he turned in three months of homework after Spring Break because his dad was out of town and he could study without being ridiculed... about how (against the wishes of the counselor) I submitted his name for testing for the Gifted program--and two kids out of fifteen students qualified...and he was one! But I will end this example of courage with my favorite memory. I used to lend him books from my library, always placing a bookmark after page 100.  Seven years later, I received a book in the mail at school. And tucked behind page 100 was his senior picture.

Example 3... I teach sixth grade. I teach kids who are often taller than I am. I teach kids with big bodies and bigger attitudes (who are sometimes... ummmm... aromatically challenged). I have taught many kids who have threatened (and succeeded) to hurt others--and have threatened me. (Thankfully, they have hurt only my feelings... I have no other battle scars.) But there is something I do each year that requires me to find bravery beyond that needed for anything described above...

As part of the curriculum, sixth grade teachers are expected to teach "Family Life" (AKA Sex Ed). It is easy to guess that this is NOT my favorite subject. I have to practice saying some of the vocabulary words out loud over and over at home so that I don't dissolve into a fit of giggles when I try to present the material to the students. I have to listen to their questions and prepare intelligent-sounding answers without a lot of thinking time, and i have to provide the "real words" for all of the slang they know. I have to share larger-than-life information on the Promethean board without saying most of the the things that are racing through my head. As part of this program, I also have to present "the video" and the curriculum to the students' PARENTS--which is almost more difficult than teaching the students!  I am always thankful (and so are the students!) when the week of Family Life education is over. I think this part of teaching sixth graders requites more COURAGE than breaking up fights on the playground! (See, I told you courageous teaching is required in lots of different situations)

So there you have it. Three examples of courage. I am SO hoping you have a story to share too.
And here are three ways you can do just that...

1. Maybe you already have a "just right" post and you can link up to something you've already blogged about. Just link to your post below... just like you would with a Currently post. (Hi Farley!) And it would be great if you attached the "Teaching with Courage" button above (with the code below it) just like you would grab any other blog button.

2. Maybe there is a situation that has happened and you haven't had a chance to post about it yet... and now is the time! Teachers can always learn from other teachers' experiences. Think of it as helping out a colleague in need of a little bravery. It doesn't have to be a lengthy account. Just show us your courage so that we can feel a little braver on your behalf. And then link up below. And it would be great if you attached the "Teaching with Courage" button above (with the code below it) just like you would grab any other blog button.

3. Finally, if you're not in a post-and-link mood, or if you don't have a blog, it would be wonderful if you shared your experience in the comments section at the end of this post. Describe what happened in a teaching setting (home school included) and how you found the COURAGE to deal with the situation.

And thanks to you for joining us on our journey on International Blog Hopping Day!

Now it's YOUR turn to share...

And if you've linked up and are trying to get back "home" to TBA,
Clink on the button below...


  1. Wow! Hands down, this is one of the BEST teaching posts I've read in a long time. Thank you for your honesty and your dedication to your kids. The end of your example 2 is very touching. I'm inspired to keep working hard for my kiddos.

  2. Wow, I literally have tears in my eyes. Your post was amazing. I can only wish to some day be as inspiring as you! Thank you so much for sharing your stories (especially number 2!)

    Jennifer @ Herding Kats In Kindergarten

  3. Can you believe that I opened up my computer (before coffee!), clicked on the TBA link, saw the courage button, clicked on it FIRST, and up pops this amazing post!! And you mention a counselor in #2, which I went to first because I usually read comments first, and it's the BEST! Wow - so much courage. I agree with Danvi and Jennifer - BeAuTiFuL!!

    Be strong and courageous . . .

    The Corner On Character

  4. Page one hundred book-mark. YUP. Tears here, too! Courage indeed. I am so happy to link up a story of extreme courage from my blog. I know that you'll 'get' it based on your first ten years with children and their multitude of needs. Bring your tissues. Or maybe just your goose bumps.

    Debbie Clement

    I couldn't get the button to upload properly? Some sort of user error no doubt, but perhaps check it out.

  5. Great post! My eyes teared up with the end of example #2! That's what it is all about. Thank you for sharing your inspiring words and being so courageous!

    The Teaching Thief

  6. Kim, how dare you make me cry so early in the morning. I love your stories...they are all so courageous and fabulous. What a kind, caring, compassionate teacher you are.

    Teaching in Room 6

  7. I agree with Amanda - your memories of page 100 is incredible! What a fantastic person you are Kim!
    -Leslie @KindergartenWorks

  8. Wow, your example number 2 brought tears to my eyes. I have been teaching for 12 years and I hope that I can someday make THAT impact on a student. I would have been a blubbering mess when I saw that book with the picture. How amazing that must have made you feel!

    Krazy Kindergarten Teacher

  9. What an inspiration you are to so many Kim! This post was an encouragement and such a blessing to read. Thank you for all you do.

  10. Awesome post, Kim! You give so much inspiration to a soon-to-be student teacher. Wow, you are one courageous woman. :)
    The topic on my blog today is a little bit about courage...if you could call it that.


  11. I love your stories! My favorite was the one about the boy who punched someone, who ended up having a heart of gold. A lot of times the kids who are the "worst" are really some of the most sensitive kids, which causes them to act tough in order to protect themselves.

  12. Thanks for these wonderful stories. They brought me to tears and helped me think about being a more loving and caring teacher to my students. I had a really hard set of kids last year and I am moving up with them next year, though the group will be mixed up, but I know they will be just as challenging and love seems to be the best way to combat their challenges. I also LOVE your Wizard of Oz pictures!

  13. Wow. You ARE courageous. Your first example is very inspiring!! Your second example totally reminded me of some super special students I had along the way. (And the fact that you received a book with his picture in it made me cry a bit). Your third example made me laugh a little bit. The fact that you have to practice some of the vocabulary words at home so that you don't laugh in front of the kids when you say them . . . :) :) :)
    I loved this post. LOVE IT.
    A Teeny Tiny Teacher

  14. Just deciding to be a teacher is a courageous act.I’m your newest follower. Please check out my blog if you get a chance. Calling Plays in 2nd Grade.
    Thanks, Shanell

  15. Wow! Absolutely love this post!

  16. I will begin my student teaching in the fall (the very first day of school) in a 1st grade classroom. I have been an assistant in K-2 classrooms and working with struggling readers in K-6 for 10 years. I am, however, quite terrified. I will need all the courage I can get come August.

  17. I'm loving these examples of courageous teaching!

  18. Wow. This is a great post. Your stories are inspiring. Thank you for sharing these amazing experiences : )

    Thank you so much for stopping by my blog and giving me encouragement on my failed giveaway!! I appreciate it.

    Tales From a Traveling Teacher

  19. Thanks so much for sharing your inspiring stories! On those days when things didn't go as planned and you're ready to pack it in, it's wonderful to have those memories to keep you going!

  20. Oh Kim, this was such a stirring, inspirational post. You have such a way with words and an even more so with children. I think you defined courageousness perfectly--thank you sharing your heart and wisdom with everyone. :)

  21. Thanks for the inspiring posts! Courage and classroom are not often thought of together, but you pulled them together beautifully.

  22. What an awesome post! It was courageous of you to post such personal examples for us! Thanks for sharing!

  23. I love these courageous examples! They are definitely VERY inspiring!

    Miss V's Busy Bees

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. Kim,
    Thank you for sharing this with us. Thank you, for linking me to this page. As a first year teacher with 6th graders, I have this urgent desire to shrink under my desk, as I know it takes a "special" type of person to teach this grade level, or so I have heard. ;)
    Bravo for standing up to your superior in hopes that your students would be treated as any other. It sort of sounds like last year for me as a long-term sub, my first 6 months of teaching, which paid off as a full contract :)
    You are courage and inspiring, my friend.

    Fearfully and Wonderfully Crafted

  26. Thank you so much for this post. I read it back when you first posted it, but something made me bookmark it.
    I teach kindergarten at a year round school for at-risk children and I have a fresh-from-college co-teacher. In her FIRST MONTH she has had to handle a restraining order, a child involved in a domestic violence incident and yesterday, the death of a student's mother (this is a first for me as well). We spent all day today comforting 5 & 6-year-olds who have either never experienced death or who are retraumatized by their classmate's loss, all while coping as best we could ourselves. It was the worst day of school.
    I printed this post out and am having her read it tomorrow. Sometimes, as teachers, we have to be courageous in ways we never imagined. We were there for those kids, and as hard as it was, we did it.


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