Embracing Beauty • Day 2 • A Teacher’s Story


Today’s example of embracing beauty comes from Blythe, a dedicated kindergarten teacher from Canyon, Texas.

Blythe writes:

I have been contemplating your request for things of beauty. I did not want to send you a picture of a sunset (though I find that to be of great beauty) but instead a story of grit, determination and beauty.

14466880_10100829653395510_1911851069_oThis is the story of one of my sweet littles. I will call him “Cal”.

Cal came into my class with a bright personality, a twin brother, and ears that could barely hear. He wore powerful hearing aids, and I had a special microphone that I wore that would take my voice directly to his ears.

Still, he struggled with learning.

It was my great dilemma as a teacher: how do I teach someone to read when language is made up of sounds, and he cannot hear the sounds?

My heart ached for my sweet Call, because he wanted to learn to read so badly. He would sigh as he realized he had gotten something wrong, and sometimes his resigned face would send me from the room in tears.

Over time, my dilemma went from how do I teach him to read to how do I teach him to not give up? How do I teach him to keep trying when it is going to take him 75% more effort than every one else to do things that come easy for others? How do I teach him to love learning and to fight for it?

And then I remembered sitting in the office of one of the university teachers who inspired me to be a teacher. She was reteaching me a lesson that I had not understood from class, a lesson that I still did not understand, and when I was ready to give up, she stopped me, and said “Blythe, your job is to show up ready to learn and my job is to teach you. If you do not understand it the way I am teaching, it is my job to find a way to teach you so that you DO understand. Your job is to show up, my job is to teach. You showed up, so I will find a way, and I will keep at it until you understand.”

Your job is to show up, my job is to teach. You showed up, so I will find a way, and I will keep at it until you understand.

This teacher changed the way I looked at learning. Suddenly things seemed possible with a good teacher and lots of determination. This is what I wanted my sweet Cal to understand, so I would research and try new things, and if it did not work I would look for something else. I was determined, and I wanted him to know it.

Around spring break and I was starting to become discouraged again. But then it happened.

Beauty came on a Thursday afternoon.

Cal was practicing sight words on my iPad when he walked over with the most delightful grin on his face. “Look, Miss Chapman! I wrote a sentence!”

I looked at the iPad to see “I see a cat” written in kindergarten script.

“I see a cat.” It is a deceptively simple sentence until you know that the word cat was not on any papers in our room, nor was it posted anywhere on the walls. Cal had sounded out the word cat with no help. He had put together that sounds go with letters, and letters make words and words hold meaning.

The smile on his sweet face is something I will always remember. He fought for that moment, and it was pure joy and beauty (with some tears mixed in). I don’t know if Cal will remember writing “cat” that day, but I will always hold that memory close. I was reminded that faithfulness and determination are built upon daily. I was reminded that the fight to learn is worth it.

Beauty comes in many forms, and on that day it was a six year old boy whose ears did not work, but who figured out how to write words!

Nate’s note: Blythe sent me this story as an example of the beauty of a child overcoming challenges to learn, but I would add that it’s also a story of the beauty of a persistent and invested educator, determined that all of the children in her care will succeed in learning.

Stay tuned for more examples of embracing beauty, and please share these posts with your friends each day this month! Remember, this blog doesn’t have any advertising, and I make no money off of getting hits on stories. I just want to counteract the ugliness we see each day with small and huge examples of the beauty that exists in this world!

Also, if you have an example of beauty that you want to share, drop me a line at info@thimblerigsark.com and I’ll be happy to include it!


School of Rock Lesson #1 • Those Who Can Do Well, Teach Well

I re-watched School of Rock last night, for the first time as an actual teacher, and walked away with ten lessons for teachers, which you can read right here.  This is the first lesson, unpacked.

[It’s been ten years, but I’ll go ahead and say there are a few spoilers coming.  You’ve been warned!]

Let’s be honest.  While many teachers go into education because they feel called to the field from an early age, many others fall into it backwards.  It’s a means to an end, a way to pay the bills.  They do it, and they enjoy it, and they love the students, but if they could rub the lamp and finagle three wishes from the genie, then they’d follow a different dream in a heartbeat.

This is written for those teachers.

You know who I’m talking about: the baseball coach who thought he would play in the majors; the math teacher who still tries to find time to write the Great American Novel; the drama teacher who imagined she would direct Shakespeare in New York; many teachers – deep down – feel like they’ve had to let go of their dreams.  It doesn’t mean they’re bad teachers, but what it might mean is that they might drag their feet to work each day.

This letting go of dreams is a recurring theme in School of Rock, where Dewey’s brother has chosen to leave behind his dream of being a musician to pursue a more secure lifestyle as a teacher.  Dewey finds himself in that same situation, fired from his rock band, and surreptitiously taking a substitute teaching job offered to his brother to make money to pay the rent.

To Dewey, the education system is “the man”.  The enemy right from the start.  His very presence in the school shows his lack of respect for the institution, with the job only being a falsely gained means to an end.  He is even brazen enough to repeat the cliché that “those who can’t do, teach” while talking with the other teachers!

W9kw9Dewey slowly shows a change of heart as he secretly teaches the students to play rock music, while seemingly not teaching them anything else (he definitely is teaching them more than rock music, but I’ll get to that later). Dewey’s  turning point is at the Battle of the Bands, when the wildly popular prepubescent band blows away the audience, but loses the competition.  Dewey is angry and disappointed until the students remind him what he said before, that they weren’t in the competition to win, but to rock.

In the process, something clicks, and we – along with Dewey – realize that the saying should actually be, “those who can do wellteach well“.  This movie has been an exploration by Dewey to discover that he is actually good at the job he’d always hated before – teaching – and that through teaching he can actually live his dream while helping guide others to achieving that same dream.

And in the end, owning and operating his own private School of Rock studio, he’s finally living his dream.

He’s teaching, and he loves it.

Even if he might not be opening for Motörhead.

So, if you are a teacher who has dreams that seem to be just over the horizon, just out of reach, be encouraged!  Don’t grow resentful that you aren’t achieving some certain dream for your life, rather let your dream fuel what you are achieving!

Let your dream ignite your passion, and in the process, you might just find that you are not only a better teacher, but that acceptance and embracing of teaching might be the thing that puts your dream within reach.

And a word to the wise.  If your unfulfilled dreams involve achieving a certain level of fame or notoriety, just remember the countless teachers who might not be well known outside of their community, but within the community they have had lasting impacts on countless lives.

They – because they were teaching their passion and their dreams – left behind something far greater.

They left behind a legacy.

Nate Fleming is living the dream, teaching at an international school in China, just across the bay from Hong Kong, and writing children’s books while teaching students how to write.  He’s just published his first novel, Thimblerig’s Ark.


10 Things I Learned About Teaching from School of Rock Ten Years Later

After eleven years, Jack Black’s School of Rock has been back in the news.  First, Andrew Lloyd Webber announced last year that he was aiming to turn it into a Broadway musical, and then just last month Nickelodeon announced that they are turning the premise into a weekly series!  This, coupled with last year’s story about the cast’s ten year reunion in Austin made me realize that it might be a good time to revisit the film.

So, last night the family and I settled down to revisit rocker wanna-be Dewey Finn’s duplicitous foray into the world of elementary school teaching, and I was pleased to see that the film has held up well, and I enjoyed it as much as I’d enjoyed the first time I’d seen it, about ten years ago.

But there was a fundamental difference.  This was the first time watching School of Rock as a full time teacher.  I’ve been teaching upper elementary in Kazakhstan and China for the past seven years, and the reality of my experience in the classroom made watching Jack Black’s attempt at teaching even more interesting.

As I watched, it began to dawn on me that this film was not only entertaining, but there were some pretty substantial lessons any teacher could/should take away from watching Dewey Finn rocking out with the kids from Horace Green Elementary.  So, even though it’s about ten years late, here are my…

Ten Things I Learned about Teaching from School of Rock Ten Years Later

1.  It’s not “those who can’t do, teach” – it’s “those who can do well, teach well.” You can read my thoughts about this one here.

school-of-rock-00-400-802.  Teach to your passions, not just to the test.

3.  The best teachers take the time to discover each student’s strengths and capitalize on them.

4.  But at the same time, don’t pigeon-hole your students; give them room to surprise you.

5.  Encouragement is one of the most important gifts you can give.

6.  Administrators are people, too.

7.  Students need respect as much as adults.

8.  Give your students freedom to learn, but also help them to know the limits.

9.  You don’t have to be entertaining to be a good teacher (but it doesn’t hurt).

10.  Believe in your students, and they will learn to believe in themselves.

Anyone have anything to add to this list?