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From a retired Teacher-turned-Writer

  • Written by Chloe JonPaul
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Submitted by Chloe JonPaul M.Ed

As a teacher for 35 years, I taught every grade except kindergarten. I also taught Adult Ed, high school English in a psychiatric facility, and inmates in the Maryland state prison. Teaching and writing have always been my passions. I retired early from teaching and turned to writing full time when the death knell sounded on my creativity in the classroom. We were being forced to “teach to the test” and that was something I refused to do. I longed for the days when I heard students saying, “Gee whiz! Three o’clock already?” I knew I had to be doing something right! The projects we planned and carried out were amazing! How about these?

 
Fourth graders placed in “medical school” to learn Greek and Latin roots: Upon “graduation from medical school”, the “doctors” were then invited to perform a rootectomy. My classroom was turned into an X-Ray lab and operating room with supplies donated by the local hospital.
Another fourth grade class buried a 50 year time capsule, enlisting the help of various businesses to make it truly professional. A granite marker rests at the base of the school flag at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. It reads:
 
 Ms. Giampaolo’s Fourth Grade Class We are the past ~ you are the future 1987-2037
 
One of my classes wrote a “term paper” based on their three major fears: death, divorce, and nuclear disaster. I wanted them to learn the key elements of writing such a paper and as a result of our playground conversations, I discovered what concerned them the most. They weren’t satisfied with just writing about their fears. They wanted to know what other fourth graders in the school district were afraid of, so they took a survey and compiled the results in bar graph displays. Their artwork embellished the text. Geiger Brothers, publishers of the Farmer’s Almanac, agreed to publish the students’ work in a soft cover booklet and subsequently adopted the school with special help. 
 
Upon being awarded a $2000 grant from the Maine State Dept. of Education for my proposal, “Unlearning Indian Stereotypes”, another one of my fourth grade classes hosted 15 children from one of the Indian reservations. These children were paired up with some of my students for an overnight stay. We began with a cookout for our visitors – adults and children. Afterwards, the adults were treated to a Bed & Breakfast place and the children went off with their hosts. The next day we had an all-day celebration with all fourth graders participating in learning about Indian culture, dance, medicine, and helping to erect a teepee. The day ended with a performance my fourth graders put on for our guests. This is just a sampling of what creative teaching can and should be.
 
People have asked me if I’m the character Vera in the novel I have written. No, I’m not Vera or Dee although I must admit that there may be a little of me in both of them. The characters, setting, and events are purely fictional and are basically a composite of people, places, and events that I have known. While this novel is set in the mid-80s, events currently in the news make it timely.
 
Taylor Mali, an American slam poet, humorist, teacher, and voiceover artist, writes this about a conversation over dinner about what a teacher makes: He says the problem with teachers is:
 
What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher? He reminds the other dinner guests that it’s true what they say about teachers: Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. I decide to bite my tongue instead of his and resist the temptation to remind the dinner guests that it’s also true what they say about lawyers. Because we’re eating, after all, and this is polite conversation. I mean, you’re a teacher, Taylor. Be honest. What do you make? And I wish he hadn’t done that— asked me to be honest— because, you see, I have this policy about honesty and bullies: if you ask for it, then I have to let you have it. You want to know what I make?
 
I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor and an A– feel like a slap in the face. How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best. I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.No, you may not ask a question. Why won’t I let you go to the bathroom? Because you’re bored. And you don’t really have to go to the bathroom, do you? I make parents tremble in fear when I call home: Hi. This is Mr. Mali. I hope I haven’t called at a bad time, I just wanted to talk to you about something your son said today.
To the biggest bully in the grade, he said, “Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don’t you?
It’s no big deal.” And that was noblest act of courage I have ever seen. I make parents see their children for who they are and what they can be. 
 
You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder,I make them question.I make them criticize. I make them apologize and mean it. I make them write. I make them read, read, read. I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely Beautiful over and over and over again until they will never misspell either one of those words again. I make them show all their work in math and hide it on their final drafts in English. I make them understand that if you’ve got this, then you follow this, and if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make, you give them this. (show them the finger) Here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true: Teachers? Teachers make a difference! Now what about you?
 
As someone once said: Teaching is...the profession that makes all other professions possible. I wish to honor and celebrate all good teachers everywhere who make a difference.
 
-Chloe Jon Paul M.Ed - www.chloejonpaul.com
 
* Permission given by Taylor Mali to reprint. 
**JonPaul is the anglicized version of Giampaolo