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Sneak Peek: Finding Mrs. Warnecke - The Difference Teachers Make

Cindi Rigsbee

The classroom relationship between a student and a teacher can extend years after the classroom doors have closed.  In Finding Mrs. Warnecke: The Difference Teachers Make, readers see how one teacher made an incredible impact on her students and learn just how special the classroom bond between a student and teacher can be.

This excerpt from Finding Mrs. Warnecke: The Difference Teachers Make gives you a glimpse into this unique relationship.

"A Surprise Announcement"

excerpted from Finding Mrs. Warnecke: The Difference Teachers Make

  • One year I had a seventh grade language arts class that was very difficult to get focused on instruction. It was a small class, fourteen very lively boys and one girl, Tenisha. Tenisha tried to make her place in that classroom known, but despite her feistiness, those boys let her know who was boss. Demario and Imhotep were artists and sat in their desks sketching continuously. They were good at it, too. Cerrone had a little song that he sang over and over. It went like this: “do do dodo dodooooo…”  Whenever there was a silent moment…for example, if I tried to take a breath while teaching, Cerrone would sing out, “Do do dodo dodo!” Jonathan, the biggest seventh grader I ever taught, was a football player the team referred to as Earthquake. He was extremely shy and very quiet, and the other guys liked to bounce off of him—literally. They would throw their bodies against his and bounce off! It was the highlight of the class period as they entered class and as they left – bouncing off the Earthquake.

  • So it wasn‘t surprising that I had a hard time keeping this very active class in line to walk to the lunchroom. We had to walk outside the school building to get to the cafeteria door, and all the way these boys would run, jump, kick, tumble, and play while Tenisha and I followed along. It was not uncommon for Cerrone to smack Imhotep and then take off running with the other boys in chase. But one day I had an idea. I asked the principal if I could develop an incentive program for this class, and she agreed. If the students brought materials to class, completed all their work, and walked nicely to and from the cafeteria on Monday through Thursday, on Fridays, I would take them to the food court at the mall for lunch.

  • I came up with an intricate classroom behavior chart, and although it was hard work documenting every child‘s behavior every day, it worked! There was a turnaround in behavior, and student achievement soared. Those kids loved going to the mall on Fridays—maybe even as much as I did! I would drive them over in the school‘s activity van, and we‘d be back at the end of the lunch period.

  • Because this class was my “lunch bunch,” we became very close. Soon we were taking weekend trips to movies and ballgames, too. Once again I recognized the difference those all-important relationships make. I loved those kids and, just as important, I loved teaching because my classroom was no longer a battlefield.
  • A Surprise Announcement

  • That same year, my seventh year of teaching, was a monumental one for me for many reasons. In addition to my successful, albeit unorthodox incentive program, to my surprise, I was voted the Teacher of the Year for my school. As soon as I heard the news, I walked to my colleague‘s classroom to make sure I wasn‘t imagining that I had heard my name on the afternoon announcements. She laughed and told me that she herself had nominated me because of my relationships with the kids and because I worked so hard. I was honored, of course, and excited that the faculty of my school had recognized that I was giving so much of myself to my job and my kids, but I was a little nervous when I found out what was to come. The honor came with a classroom visit from the school district‘s Teacher of the Year selection committee. Not only would they observe my teaching but they would stay in my school the entire day, talking to staff members and students about me and my teaching.

  • When I shared that information with my colleagues, they all had the same comment:

  •                “They‘re going to see your fourth period class!”
  • Teachers offered to take a few of the “lunch bunch” for the period, but I wanted the experience to be genuine. I told them I‘d keep everyone, and we would go on as if it were a regular school day. My fourth period class was the most upset of all.
  •                “But we can‘t behave!” they cried.

  •                “We can‘t even be quiet,” Cerrone said, and added, “Do Do DoDo DoDo”
  • I told them we would be fine and turned around to the board to write. But something was wrong—the class was totally silent. There was no talking, there were no pencils scraping across paper to make a masterpiece, there was no singing. I was scared to turn around. Slowly, I turned and looked. And then my eyes welled up with tears. All of my students had taped their mouths shut. (Later, I learned that Cerrone had grabbed the masking tape off my desk and the class had passed it around.) I asked them to take off the tape. Only Cerrone did.
  •                “We‘re practicing trying to keep quiet, Mrs. Rigsbee. We can do this when the
  •                 judges are in the room, too!”
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                   “Now, Cerrone, what do you think the judges will think if they come in here

  •                and my whole class is taped up?”
  • Cerrone sang his little song again.

    I was not nervous on the day the judges came. I had been nervous before, especially during the interviews, but now they were here in my classroom with my children. I just wanted them to see how I had worked to teach those fifteen children to be better readers. I had taught them strategies to help them interact with text and raise their level of comprehension. And I had done it with the help of my most important teaching tool – relationships.

    As I planned my lesson for the special day, I laminated several pictures from a magazine. On the day the visitors sat in my classroom, I asked my students to look at the pictures and then brainstorm ideas for a description paper. One by one, I held the pictures up and asked the students to describe them. When it was Jonathan‘s turn, I displayed a picture of a festive multi-colored hot air balloon, though I immediately wished I chosen a better selection for him– maybe a sports picture, something more masculine; I didn‘t want to make him uncomfortable. But the picture was already up there for the class, and the committee, to see, so I moved on.

  •                “Jonathan, how would you describe this?” I asked.

  • Jonathan struggled, cleared his throat, coughed, and looked at his feet. We all waited. The class looked at Jonathan, then the judges, then at me…as if to say “Answer. Answer anything!”

  •                Slowly, Jonathan, the Earthquake, looked up at me and said, in a barely audible voice,
  •                “It‘s, uh, it‘s….a pear-shaped rainbow.”
  • The room fell silent. Tenisha gasped. The other boys whispered under their breaths, “Yes! Yes!”

  •                I had tears in my eyes when I said, “Jonathan, that‘s a beautiful description.”

  • I will never forget that moment. I will always remember the bunch of rowdy boys who taped their mouths for me and the big, quiet boy who came up with one of the best metaphors I‘ve ever heard.

If you'd like to read more get Finding Mrs. Warnecke: The Difference Teachers Make now!


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