Melissa Crowley teaches English/Reading, Spanish, Math, Social Studies / History / Geography, Physical Education / Coaching, Science / Biology / Chemistry, Health, Art & Music, and Dance/Gymnastics. You can learn more about her in the interview below, and at The Teacher Marketplace.
Why did you become a teacher?
Deep down, I always knew I wanted to teach. Like many teenagers, I had a chip on my shoulder and argued with anyone that resembled an authority figure about practically everything under the sun. Coming from an often chaotic home life, and doing my part to create as much chaos as possible on the side, I ran into my fair share of trouble.
If not for a couple of very patient teachers, my vice principal, and high school counselors, I have no doubt I would have never graduated at all. In fact, I clearly remember standing in my vice principal, Mr. Finley’s, office asking him for withdrawal papers. (At the time, a student could withdraw themselves once they turned 16.) Mr. Finley was one of the kindest spirits I’ve ever known, and he understood things about me that I did not understand about myself during those years. In his wisdom, he refused my request, and years later I returned to thank him and share with him the news of my graduation from graduate school — as a bonafide member of Kappa Delta Pi, with an impressive transcript that featured all A’s and only one A-, no less. He was thrilled, and not a bit surprised.
Knowing firsthand the difference that teachers could make in their student’s life propelled me towards a career in education. I, too, wanted to be the reason that a child didn’t quit. I, too, wanted to be the one that believed in the kid that didn’t believe in themselves. I wanted to offer hopeless students hope, and challenge wayward children to claim a stake in their futures. This, I suppose, is the real reason I became a teacher.
How has the last year affected you and your students?
My students and I became closer than many of the classes I’ve taught over the years. We forged a tight bond and talked about things in a refreshingly open and candid way. I had students fleeing fires in California when COVID was at its peak. I had students who lost grandparents they had not hugged all year, and students whose parents were not staying at home because they worked in healthcare and did not want to get the family sick.
It was a hard year for my students. But, it was a special year, too. We became a family. We listened to each other. We cried with friends when they buried their pets. We threw virtual birthday parties and logged on in costume on Halloween. We still learned how to add double digits and the sneaky “e” rule. But, we learned a lot, together, that had nothing to do with academics, too. And, I think it’s those lessons that my students and I will hold close to our hearts, and never forget.
What’s a creative solution you use to keep kids engaged or motivated during COVID?
Allowing children to have an opportunity to create solutions to the issues we face as a society, is one of the things that we can do to not only keep them engaged but to also empower our students so that they do not feel powerless. I’ve found that students often have opinions about how we ought to be doing things, and they have a desire to be heard, but rarely do they have an adult who will listen, especially during major times of world-class crises. Listening to students, and allowing them to have input, fills them with a sense of responsibility but also lets them work through heavy issues that are weighing on their little minds, within their own community of peers.
Another must-do, especially during times of confusion and tragedy, is to make time for fun. Give your students permission to “be a kid.” Plan one afternoon of games, crafts, show and tell, music and dance so they can let it all hang out. You would be surprised how much this positively impacts their behavior when regular class time resumes.
Finally, pencil in some time for creativity and student-led projects. Both of these allow children to express themselves in ways that teacher-led instruction does not. Whether it’s creating abstract artwork, building structures with found materials, or painting still life with Crayola watercolor paint, art is one time that children can say whatever they need to say in a way that is completely unique and they are only judged on their efforts. Student-led projects of all kinds keep their fire for learning burning.
What resources do you like to use in the classroom or in teaching remotely?
- A whiteboard (not the Zoom whiteboard, an actual whiteboard).
- A dice with dry-erase sides is great for on-the-spot games. Fill each side with a math problem or spelling word and toss it in the air, then call out the question to students.
- Virtual Scavenger Hunts and virtual field trips. A TON of cool places offered these during the pandemic and I hope they continue this trend as my class loved “visiting” the Smithsonian space and art museums, the San Diego zoo, and other cool never-before-seen places.
- EPIC Books (for after lunch read-along).
What is your experience with bullying in the classroom?
My experience tells me that [bullies] are often dealing with a lot under the surface, and this is how they deal to gain some control over what’s happening in their lives at home, at school, in their busy little brains — where ever. I talk to the class about our strict “no bullying” policy and what it means to be a friend and a class family. Throughout the year I address this issue consistently, and as needed (which is sometimes often for young students). If I take note of a particular student who is bullying classmates, we have a private chat, one-on-one, to try to get to the bottom of why they are doing what they are doing. If necessary, I bring in the parents or guardians to discuss matters, or a school counselor or administrator.
“Bullies” are often crying out for help and sometimes we are the only ones to hear them — but, only if we listen very very closely and without judgment. It’s a slippery slope, protecting students from the bully while helping the bully to overcome their behavior and whatever might be causing it. But, this is teacher life, like it or not.
How do you gauge if your students are succeeding?
- If they are working hard and doing their best.
- If they are progressing in their knowledge (leveling up, I like to call it), like reading harder books, taking on more complex projects, advancing in math, etc. as the year goes on.
- Assessments (formative, summative, diagnostic, etc.)
- Observations/running records.
- Attitude, self-esteem, opinion of school/learning, self assessments.
- Developmental milestones.
What’s a fun thing students don’t know about you?
My workroom at home is always a mess, I once lived on a campground in a tent, and I can still do the splits!
What’s the one book you wish all students would read?
Catcher in the Rye (but wait until they get to high school to read it).
What is your primary educational goal, and what are you most proud of as a teacher?
My three major goals every year are:
- LOVE my students (so they know they are loved)
- Instill in them (or encourage) the love of learning.
- Give them the space, freedom, and support to achieve their maximum potential (academically and otherwise).
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