California Educator

August 2016

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T o d ay I w a n t t o t a l k a b o u t something timeless, some- thing that applies to all grade levels, all personality types, all content areas, and any California standard or curriculum they could possibly throw at us. I want to talk about love — the concept of love and how it relates to the classroom. e year was 2003, and I'm 32 with my first teaching job at Gahr High School in Cerritos. A tough schedule: 10th- and 12th-grade reme- dial English, with students who had just been through a parade of subs. I started out naively enough with my students, wanting to "get to know them." Evan, a tall, handsome sophomore on the varsity basketball team, slumped in his seat and shouted out, " You ain't never gonna know me." All 36 sets of eyes fell on me. " Well, I'd like to," I said sheepishly. He replied, " You ever have a lady hide her purse because you walkin' on the same side of the street? You ever have a security guard follow you around at Rite Aid 'cause you went in to get a soda?" I had to reply no. He stuck his earbuds in and went silent. I greeted Evan at the door ever y day, asked him about his basketball games, and even clipped a newspaper article of him shooting a 3-pointer. I picked short stories with defiant, strong young men as protag- onists in hopes of hooking him. I thanked him for being so opinionated, and told him that his strong convictions would be an asset in life. I gave him loads of attention — some- times well received, sometimes not. But I knew I was onto the love thing when he came back the next year to visit my classroom, mumbling a s h e l o o ke d a t th e f loor that he wished his teachers "wanted to get to know him." I kn e w I w a s n o t a better teacher than the teachers he com- pared me to, by any means, but I did three t h i n g s d u r i n g m y rookie year: I thought of the kids with love, I communicated with words of love, and my actions portrayed love. I learned names fast and used them often and made eye contact with every kid at least three times a day. I knew the color of their eyes. Feisty Evan was my first lesson on love in th e classroom — I was hi s student, ironically. And for the past 12 years in four schools, it has been my overarching peda- gogy, my greatest lesson plan, and my most effective classroom management tool: love. It hasn't been easy. A student who really challenged thoughts of love for me was Savanna . Sh e was a girl w ho filled th e room from down the hall. In my first-period English 1 class, she was always on volume 20. I could hear her : "Mrs. Joooonnnes." I' ll never forget Act 2 of A Midsummer Night's Dream, when she shouted from our makeshift stage, "Mrs. Jones, what if I by accident say Puck's name wrong and pro- nounce it …?" ank you, Savanna! inking of Savanna with love was really tough, but that changed one day during our student study team meeting when I met her mother. She was Savanna times 1,000. She cussed, she berated all of us for "giving Savanna F's," and she actually threatened to hit Savanna in the middle of the meeting. Savanna needed me to love her. I would get nothing playing hardball with this girl. She was living in hell, and school was her escape — it was obvious. She didn't care about grades or threats. Love was my only chance. So, every day before first period, I would take three minutes to think about Savanna lovingly, to picture her home life, to visu- alize how I would greet her with a warm smile, and thank her for coming to class that day and being my "morning coffee." I had a complete turnaround with her. e funny thing is, she didn't change that much. I did. Because I viewed her through a lens of love, I was more patient. I could anticipate her misbehaviors and circum- vent them. She passed my class, and I now smile when I think of her, instead of cry. I want parents to smile when they see my name on their kids' school schedule, because they know I will love them and take care of them. I want to honor this important trusted position as teacher. It's big — that's why I'm so proud to respond to people when they ask what I do. I 'm a teacher and I love kids. It's pretty huge. Laurie Jones, Tulare Joint Union High School Teachers Association, teaches English and speech at Mission Oak High School in Tulare. "I learned names fast and used them often and made eye contact with every kid at least three times a day. I knew the color of their eyes." By LAURIE JONES T H E T H I N G 21 August 2016 perspectives your voice

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