Model What You Want… Get What You Model… And don’t forget about Spaghetti!


Spaghetti…. Do you like it or Do you have an extreme dislike for it?

We will get back to spaghetti in a minute!

As a veteran teacher of 20 + years I have always told my colleagues that the minute I stop progressing is the minute I find something new or put in my retirement papers.  This attitude isn’t one that I came up with myself.  It is an attitude learned from a former colleague and friend that had been teaching longer than I had been alive when we first started to teach together!

Get What You Model…

When I first met Mrs. Freeman she was a friend of my husband’s family and a teacher at the local school.  At the time I was teaching in a nearby town, and had just begun my career.  Then a few years down the road a First Grade position in our town, Mrs. Freeman’s school, so I quickly put in an application!  And just like that I was now not just a family friend but a colleague of Mrs. Freeman’s.

Model What You Want….

As I started to work with Mrs. Freeman I began to notice she wasn’t your
normal, run-of-the-mill veteran teacher. There was something different about her.  Something that I needed to watch and learn from.

Mrs. Freeman was the first to school in the mornings, and left not soon after the teacher bell rang as she worked at the local convenience store at night.  It wasn’t because she had too for the money….  No, I believe in my heart is was way more than just something to do. It was a way for her to make sure her “kids”, old and new, were doing okay.  She would chat with them about how things were going and would make sure the kiddos that came in, I believe just to see Mrs. Freeman also, knew she cared! She was building a relationship with her new kiddos, and maintaining the relationships she had already formed with her “old” kiddos.

Then I saw something in her that I hadn’t seen in any veteran teacher I had worked with or been taught by, and it stuck.  It made me open my eyes wider. It made me “sit up, watch, and learn”. It was big. It didn’t happen. It wasn’t the NORM!

Model What You Want…

You see in Nebraska, back when State Standards first came out, Fourth Grade was one of the few years that students were assessed. And by assessed I don’t mean just one test….. ALL THE STANDARDS WERE ASSESSED IN FOURTH GRADE! Mrs. Freeman met the challenge head on and dug into the standards, breaking them apart, putting them back together, aligning them with her curriculum, and then curriculum mapping to make sure she was preparing students for what they were going to face.  She knew they were counting on her. She knew they needed her best effort, so she gave it all she had and more. Not for herself, but for the kids.

As we grew closer as colleagues, she began to ask me about some of the “stuff” I was doing in First Grade. She had seen some of the “stuff” and thought it might be something she would like to “try”. She came in and watched. She had me come and teach a lesson to her class so she could see things implemented at her level. She asked questions. She tried new things, and WHY?

Remember, Mrs. Freeman had been teaching longer than I had been alive! And she wanted to learn. She wanted to be more. She wanted more for her kids.  She wanted to give the best at all times. She was one of the most progressive, non-complaining, do what’s best for kids teacher I have had the privilege to work with.

Was she the best all the time… Probably not. But when she didn’t think she had done her best she didn’t settle.  She dug deep and worked harder.  Every child learned.

She truly was and modeled… Every Child. Every Day. Find A Way!

Get What You Model…

So how does that lead to me… How? That is where I learned the attitude of, “Give It All, All the Time!”

I learned from Mrs. Freeman that the attitude and excitement and work ethic you model for your students will be what you get back from kids.

If you want students to turn work in on time… Get papers graded and back on time.

If you want them to be excited about school… Be PUMPED as they walk in the room. Each moment of everyday.

If you want kids to respect you…. Respect their lives, in and out of school. Respect their time. Respect who they are not who we wish they would be. Respect is earned not demanded, both ways.

If you want kids to trust you… Make mistakes something normal, something that happens to you. Say sorry when you need to. Say, “I don’t know the answer to that.” if you don’t. Make yourself human and a team with them not “I am the TEACHER!”

If you want kids to love your room…. Love your room! Love your job! Be excited. Be enthusiastic. Make them believe what you have to teach them is FAR from routine. Love being at school, so they love coming!

And most of all…

If you want kids to care about your subject matter….. You need to care about their subject matter.  Not their grades. Not their assignment. Not their test scores.  Not their homework.  You need to care about the things that matter to them.  You need to make a connection……..

I have a student this year that is SUPER quiet.  I mean NEVER talks in anything but a whisper.  I made it my goal to connect with this student.

One day this student had a question in math… As I approached this student to answer the question I got down on her level next to her and said, “Before I answer your question you have to answer a question for me.” She looked at me very cautiously and whispers, “Okay?’  I then asked the student what her favorite food was.  She looked at me like I was a crazy teacher and answers, “Spaghetti.”  I proceed say, “Guess what?  I can’t stand spaghetti!” She says in her tiny whisper, “That’s funny. Everyone loves spaghetti!”  From that moment on whenever the announcements say we are having spaghetti she yells, “You aren’t eating today are you Mrs. Smith!” and I reply back, “You got it girlfriend!  I can’t stand that stuff!”

One moment… Not even a minute and a connection was made.  She found out I cared more than that question. More than that assignment.  I wanted to know her! She mattered and I cared!

Back to Mrs. Freeman… I thank her for modeling what I needed! I thank her for showing kids that she cared enough to face the tough parts of teaching, so in turn the kids dug in and faced the hard parts of school.  I thank her for showing me that you have to care.

Because sometimes all it takes is an extreme dislike of spaghetti to let a student know…. Every student. Every day. Find a way!








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