Some call me "Flem"

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B.S.Ed | M.Ed | Passionate | Compassionate | Purpose-driven | PUBLIC school teacher | There's a lot more...

Monday, June 5, 2017

Final Day at Maplewood

Sadly, today was our final day reading with the residents at Maplewood Manor Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center. As I mentioned in previous posts about our visits there, we establish an intergenerational bond with the residents while there and while reading with them.

With every visit, we add a little something, planned or unplanned, to the experience. The last time we visited, we sought to gather the stories of a few of the residents, write them up in a mini-biographical sketch and read them back to them. Well, if it can go wrong, it will. We started the process, but for a wide variety of reasons, we were unable to completely finish this mini-project. Undeterred, we pressed on.

As the kids were finishing the short stories and poems we brought along with us, one had the idea to sing to the residents. I can't lie, I was hesitant. I, however, was not going to be the one to stifle their excitement. So #onward...sing children! At first, a smaller group of them sang to the residents at one table. The song of choice, The Star Spangled Banner, which we're learning for our 5th grade Move-Up Day next Friday. Cute. lol That went well! I thought they'd be nervous, but nah! That must've been me.

Then another one of them got the idea to sing to all of those who were in the dining area. Ok. Now I'm even more hesitant. Were they going to stop us? Would the residents respond? What about those working in their offices? I'm not a worrier, so it bewildered me why I was worrying now. Still, I set aside my feelings and let them have at it. To overcome my apprehension, I gave them a quick public speaking, 10-second mini-lesson.

Introduce yourselves, especially for those with whom you didn't read.
Tell them where you're from. John B. Kelly Elementary School.
Tell them what you want to do. Sing.
Tell them what you're singing. The Star Spangled Banner and the Black national anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing.

As the children sang, those who hadn't read with us, moved their wheelchairs, got up from where they were seated, or looked up, and were quite the captive audience. My "allergies" started to act up when a grandfather and his two guests, moved to where I was seated and were moved by these young voices. One of his guests, "Ms. Alice", wanted to know more about who we were, where we were from, and why we were there. She stated that Mr. Resident (for privacy sake), really enjoyed what he heard and loves this sort of thing.

Another resident, with whom we hadn't worked before, really expressed his joy at having the opportunity to sit with one of students as they read and learned from each other. I overheard much of their conversation and I wanted to just sit in rapture.

I cannot quite put into words the connections WE made and how we felt. To know me is to know that I have a special place in my heart for those who are older and have had some experiences. It was good for the kids and me, all of us, to be a part of this intergenerational experience!

Friday, May 26, 2017

When Your Students Sound/Write Like You

We've been typing essays using Google Docs. It has definitely enhanced my writing instruction and their writing development. One student typed this comment on their classmate's doc...

"[I] like...the ending part, but where [are] your three or two ex[amples] so the reader can have more stuff to think about[?]" ~one of my 5th grade public school students

Wow! Like any relationship, personal or professional, the more you're around someone, the more you start thinking and acting alike.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Mrs. Wallace, you'll be missed!

Just about two weeks ago or so, I made my way to work, signed in, and asked Ms. Clark how Mrs. Wallace was doing. Mrs. Wallace and Ms. Clark worked closely together with their students while Mrs. Wallace was still in the classroom. I told her that I had been thinking about Mrs. Wallace and was wondering how she was. She relayed to me that she had been sick lately. Little did I know that in just a short time, we would be saying goodbye to our colleague one final time.

The last time I spoke with and hugged Mrs. Wallace, we were in the hallway of the school. I learned that she was retiring, but that she really didn’t want to. She wanted to keep teaching her young 2nd grade students. Her health, however, prevented her from dedicating the time and energy necessary to stay in the classroom like she wanted to! I remember telling her that I could understand her position, but that sometimes pressing forward in this current climate just may exacerbate the problems. She understood, of course, still, retiring was not what she wanted just yet. We embraced and she left the school.

Months later, several faculty and staff members along with her family and friends would gather at a country club’s banquet hall in Delaware County to celebrate her retirement in style! We had a blast! She seemed pleasantly surprised, as her family hoped she would! There, we celebrated the career and legacy of one of the unsung heroes and pioneers of this teaching thing, Mrs. Lillie Wallace! Yes indeed! A decades-long, career educator, Mrs. Wallace deserved everything that evening brought to her and more! We sang her praises and gave her flowers while she could smell them. A good time was had by all!

Last week, while a few of us were eating lunch, we received the unfortunate news that our beloved coworker, Mrs. Wallace, had passed. We knew she was sick, but none of us considered the possibility that she would succumb to her illness. These last few days I’ve reminisced on the students she’d ask me to keep with me for a little while until they could get their act together. She taught 4th grade that year. Two years later (now several years ago) those same students became 6th graders and it didn’t take long to understand where Mrs. Wallace was coming from! {Insert a smile here} I reflected on the infrequent conversations we’d have about “back then” and “today”. I thought about how often I’d see her making her way about the school, cane in hand, but moving. I can picture her and Ms. Clark working very closely together; Clark assisting her in the room with whatever needed to be done, escorting her students to the classroom in the morning, and from the classroom throughout the day to their “special”, to lunch, and eventually to be dismissed for the day. I thought about how much she enjoyed herself at her retirement celebration and how she got the chance to hear just how special she was to so many people.

Mrs. Wallace, you are indeed someone special and it’s so hard to bid you adieu. As a younger teacher, I can only hope that my career at retirement is half as storied a career as yours was! We will miss you Mrs. Wallace. I will miss you.

March, 2015, retirement dinner

Monday, May 15, 2017

I Embarrassed Myself in Class....On Purpose!

Picture this.
We're reading "The Bully" by Paul Langan in addition to our curriculum stuff. We come up on the part where Darrell meets Amberlynn in the supermarket and his heart starts racing. Anyone familiar with the book knows that Darrell is a timid 9th grader with a minuscule frame.

What does Mr. Flemming, the 5th grade English/Language Arts teacher do to illustrate what Darrell may have been feeling? He recalls for the class the times when he was in full geek mode and had his little crushes!
Lived in the library after school when he went to Masterman.
Believed at one time, as a student, that summer vacations were a waste of time.
Wasn't about the latest guy fashion.
Old soul.

But to learn that a girl I liked for a long time had a crush on me?

Then at the end of ANOTHER school year to learn that ANOTHER pretty girl had a crush on me?

The kids hollered as I recalled these experiences and as they were imagining their teacher as a geek trying to hit on a pretty girl!
"Hi! Would you like to read with me?"
Yup. That's me.
(Note: I was fine being who I was. It made me who I am. My childhood was great! Love you Pop and Mom Flem)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

When the Students Become the Teachers

I honestly believe that the longer I'm in this game, the more emotional I get. There are highs and lows of this (and any) profession. I choose not to focus on too many of the lows when I tweet, blog, and post. I choose to change that narrative and let the world know all the good that comes out of my very public neighborhood elementary school. Today, a student from another class had to come and spend time in my classroom. To see some of my guys assume the role of big brother, that did something to me just a little bit.

The kid made his way to one of the carpet areas (eventually) and laid down. One boy put a jacket over him, got a book, pulled up a chair and started reading to him. He was calm. Two more boys came and did the same.  I continued to teach and learn with the rest of the class, pulling them over to another section of the classroom so that we wouldn't disturb each other in our literary experiences.

Let that marinate.

Monday, May 8, 2017

I want to be a teacher just like you

Consider this a post script to a recent post that concluded with my being proud to be a Black male teacher in public schools.

Today, a few moments ago, I had three of my boys back for a little detention. As they were straightening up the classroom, one of them asked, "Mr. Flemming, when did you know you wanted to teach?"

Me: All my life!

Him: Since you was a kid?

Me: Yes.

Him: What you gotta do to become a teacher?

Me: Graduate high school, go to college, and major in education. You want to be a teacher?

Him: (nodding yes)

Me: That's good stuff, don't let nobody talk you out of it!

Him: I've been having dreams the past week about me teaching. In my dreams, I was you up here teaching and whatnot, except all that stuff (referring to a junky table off to the side). I was saying all your stuff and all that. And you was my mentor. But I know I gotta get a job and start saving now.

Me: That works. But also get good grades, because there are academic scholarships out there. That's why I tell y'all all the time to focus on school. Now you might change your mind between now and college and that's fine, but don't let anyone talk you out of it!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Almost Had Me in Tears

"Mr. Flemming, I miss your talks," said a former student who caught up with me two years ago. In addition to teaching the academic subjects, I teach life. Before, during, and/or after the lessons, wherever it's most impactful, we'd sit and talk about education and its importance, especially for, in my words, "people who look like you and me." We'd talk about the systemic racism that exists but we wouldn't bemoan it. We'd discuss ways to work hard and knock down anybod---ooops---any obstacle that would stand in our way.

One day last week I was disheartened at the lack of effort on a particular assignment with one of the classes. Because I'd had these very real and heart-to-heart conversations often, instead of me giving any kind of talk,  I asked the students to give "the talk" to each other. One by one, several of them made their way to the front to be "Mr. Flemming." After each student was finished, they "passed the mic" to someone else who was willing. They were all on point, but one student had me and a few classmates almost to the point of tears. Barely above a whisper, this young man started off by asking rhetorical questions, ones to which they could relate; questions that centered on where they want to go and who they want to be "better than." Then this, still barely above a whisper and coming from his heart - "Well, how do you think you'll get there if you don't do your work?"

Deafening silence.

He continued to let them know what was necessary to be "better than Curry" and it involved putting their time in in school. He received a raucous ovation. Then one of my "tough" guys, "Man, I almost cried," as he dramatically widened his eyes to keep tears from falling, a gesture I had just demonstrated a day or so earlier. Me to him, "Me too."

Me too, because when you don't think they're paying attention, they are.

Me too, because when I look at them, I see quite a few with a drive and a desire to succeed in spite of the obstacles we're up against. They just need a few strong adults who believe in them, not with lip service, but in deed and in truth. (I also believe in praying for them.)

Me too, because after hearing them talk, and overhearing chatter in the neighborhood and the tweets and DMs that former students send me, one person really can make a difference. I am humbled and honored that I get to wake up every day, albeit somewhat weary, wounded, and worn, and make a difference in a child's life, in an adolescent's life. The kids know real and everyday I try my best to keep in "a hunnit." This is the noblest profession on the face of the planet and being a Black male in this profession, I wouldn't have it any other way! Point blank. Period.