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I always get that bubbly, fizzy excitement in my heart when I see and hear good teaching. When it’s really good, those bubbles fizz and I can’t help the smiles that drip out of my eyes. This goes for good teaching, period. I’m more impressed when a teacher can teach me something I don’t already know—something obscure, seemingly mundane or altogether abstract. It’s like watching a quilter work through patches to create a piece you never could have conceived until their completion. Whether the project is thoughtfully prescribed or altogether organic—the exchange of information through teaching and learning is a powerful portal. Learning is a feeling that gives me great satisfaction.

In the past I have been impressed with both traditional and non-traditional teachers. Most recently, I’ve delved back into episodes of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I showed it to our own two children to give them a historical perspective and a comparison to the modern-day Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. They were hooked. Yesterday, our son put on a sweater my mother gave him and proclaimed that he was Mr. Rogers. As we were leaving for church, our daughter sang, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…” as she buttoned her coat.

I love the way Wynton Marsalis teaches. His talent as a musician is other-worldly, but I’m much more impressed with his ability to convey his passion through his own learned experience and research. He weaves history lessons into his Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts. He did this deliberate education even more thoroughly in a series tailored for children called Marsalis on Music.

In another documentary-type presentation, I remember one jam session where he essentially did a workshop with young musicians. I was so impressed with his ability to connect with the young musicians and meet them where they were. He had a profound understanding of not only their instrument, but after hearing them play, he understood exactly what their strengths were and specifically what they needed to do to improve. He was the consummate professional—it was clear he was an expert on the subject matter but what was most impressive was that he conveyed what he knew in a delicate, relational way. It had to be relational, because much of what they were doing and had to learn as musicians was heart-work. It was learning how to convey emotion through their instrument. He was working with talented and skilled musicians and the challenges that they faced were not as much technical as they were emotional. He might as well have had a couch…

He taught in a way that made you “pull-for” his pupils. It was beautiful.

It happened again today.

She walked in 5 minutes early. Our guest speaker was a fellow student, a Sixth Grader who had come to share her experiences with our Kindergarten class who has been “traveling” (on an imaginary trip) throughout South Africa.

She was confident. She noticed and took advantage of her surroundings right away. She did the first thing great teachers do—she listened.

We were teaching our students a lesson about coins and their values.

She came to speak about her travel experience in South Africa.

Moments into her presentation, I quickly jotted an email to her teacher—

She’s so composed. And flows effortlessly moment to moment not dissuaded or thrown by what can be the randomness of a K audience. So encouraging and warm. I feel like I’m with a learner-colleague more than a student. She’s a wonder! The conversation is so rich and I’m so proud they recognize much of what she’s saying. Thank you for allowing this exchange. So thrilled! So proud! I’m gonna blog about her but wanted to share my joy with you now.

That email got passed along to her once she returned to class, and of course to her parents.

She owned the room, and it’s no small feat. I’ve seen classrooms fall apart at the hand of some adults—I’ve had classrooms fall apart!

She’s done this before—a leader among her own peers, she has taken the lead on conducting surveys when a sea of Sixth Grade leaders stood before our class. A leader among leaders! What I most enjoy seeing is how she seamlessly breaks down large concepts to our young learners. Her ability in this area made me think she must have younger siblings at home—she doesn’t.

She came prepared not just with her experience, and knowledge but also with a PowerPoint. She spoke about the length of her travel, the places she visited, and the places that really resonated with her. She wove what we were learning about coins into her own presentation when she noted: “I see you all were learning about coins, do you know what the money in South Africa is called?”

“RAND!” our students exclaimed.

“Wow! You guys really know a lot!”

She was warm, encouraging and enthusiastic.

Literally, everything you would want in a classroom teacher.

Twice I think I fought back tears—our students were excited to learn with her and excited to share what they had learned. Being a witness to this great exchange held us captive to what our students had already retained. She packed a quiz into her PowerPoint (that’s teacher-talk for “the Sixth Grade student built in a check for understanding”)—they got all the questions right! We got to be proud on all the levels!

Elegant, composed. Does she get that bubbly-fizz when she engages in and leads that information-exchange? My heart hoped she would be a teacher—it does every time I speak with her. It is clearly a gift. I wonder if she can see it. Feel it.

And while I know those of us that teach have a myriad of pathways behind us—it truly is the greatest gift, the best gig, the place of joy, the exchange of information, the connections of dots, lines, blurs, the heart to heart warmth, the firing of neurons, the bursting of others!

Oh, I hope she’d find her home in this joy—even if just for today, because today—she was a rock star!


16 thoughts on “#SOL15.Rock.Star

  1. jennbrownlee5 March 3, 2015 / 2:41 am

    I also find it enthralling when I see that special spark in a future teacher- you know, that thing that can’t be taught- it just is?! I love that you shared your thinking about her with her. I remember the first time a teacher told me I would be a wonderful teacher. I still think about her regularly and am so grateful she planted the seed within me! Thank you for sharing your thinking so beautifully!

    • charinickerson March 11, 2015 / 5:41 pm

      I too, had that experience. Though, at the times it was pointed out, I was staunchly set on being a doctor. I wish I had known then that I was terribly squeamish. I also wish I knew it was the greatest job–at least for me. Fortunately, I didn’t have to want it then for fate to be fate. I’m so glad to be an educator and feel privileged to have had “the gift” pointed out to me and to be able to point it out to others. And no matter her fate, conveying information well, tailoring it to audience–is no longer just a skill for the classroom. It is a necessity in being an effective communicator. She’s impressive nonetheless. Let’s find more teachers–and welcome them into this fantastic world! Thanks for stopping by.

  2. mgminer March 3, 2015 / 3:06 am

    I wish I could have been there! You had me hooked right from the beginning, but REALLY hooked when you mention Marsalis on Music. That series was life-changing for me, both as a musician and as a person. I need to watch it again. Thank you for sharing this inspiring story!

    • charinickerson March 11, 2015 / 5:37 pm

      Marsalis is a master among us, and while he is certainly revered, I am absolutely enthralled by his grace and the ease of his personality. Moreover, by his willingness to share and impart his craft. I used the Marsalis on Music tapes when I taught a unit on African-American music. It was a powerful tool to hear a modern musician pay (and play) homage to the greats! I need to see if the series is available on Amazon or Apple TV. I had the VHS version years ago. I wonder if they at least have DVDs. Thank you for dropping by!

  3. rachel reads March 3, 2015 / 3:47 am

    What a lovely post. I was drawn in immediately by your writing style – flowing and natural – and I loved your descriptions of these great teachers. I’m glad that this older student had such an impact on your class, and hopefully your encouraging words will have an impact on her! We can only be so lucky to experience these types of teachers in our everyday lives. Thank you for sharing this slice! #SOL15

    • charinickerson March 11, 2015 / 5:32 pm

      I shared my thoughts with her–sometimes a little encouragement goes a LONG way. It certainly does here! 🙂 Thank you for stopping by.

      • LSquared March 22, 2015 / 6:15 pm

        Am I missing something? I’ve wanted to comment on your posts recently. I love today’s. But comments are turned off? Or are you limiting your attention? (which is fine, really) ~ Laura

      • charinickerson March 22, 2015 / 6:20 pm

        Thank you. No, I’m not limiting my attention. I’m limited in my understanding apparently. I used the dashboard previously to rectify this, but I can’t seem to figure it out today. I’m checking the “allow comments” box, but I can’t see a place to comment on the published blog. Any thoughts? I’m new to WordPress. Yikes!

      • LSquared March 22, 2015 / 7:24 pm

        It is tricky. My blog is still not fully functioning. Try “dashboard” to “settings” to “discussion settings” and select “allow people to post comments on new articles”
        Good luck! 😀

  4. LSquared March 3, 2015 / 4:18 am

    Well, I liked reading your opening essay on teaching, but what grabbed me was the shift to the story of today. So dramatic and strong.

    “It happened again today.
    She walked in 5 minutes early. Our guest speaker was a fellow student, a Sixth Grader who had come to share her experiences…..”

    It happened again today. I share your appreciation of fine teaching, wherever it shows up.

    • charinickerson March 11, 2015 / 5:30 pm

      Thank you! If anything was dramatic and strong it was our guest teacher! Are you a teacher, too? What field?

      • LSquared March 11, 2015 / 5:34 pm

        K-5 Intervention Leveled Literacy and I’m on leadership with San Jose Area Writing Project. I do elementary pd in writing workshop.

  5. LSquared March 4, 2015 / 2:29 am

    “She was all things southern, Atlanta, brilliant and bright.

    She packed in her bag a drawl that was like nobody’s business.

    In the same bag a canon of literature

    Her vernacular stretched across languages, and dialects and included an eye-roll that said it all.

    Oh, how I loved her!”

    YOUR POEM LET ME LOVE HER, TOO. This is gorgeous writing, these lines. Like that cake.

    • charinickerson March 11, 2015 / 5:26 pm

      I wondered if these words were adequate enough to exemplify a love that to this very moment, is so palpable. I dream of her sometimes–though it’s been a while and I think each dream a gift from God, letting me see her, talk to her. They are always too short, but I feel so loved in each one–that God knows my heart. I’m glad that my love came across and that you, too love her. Thank you for stopping by!

  6. Kevin Lynch March 11, 2015 / 2:20 am

    Thank you for sharing this inspirational story and for letting your classroom be a place where this can happen.

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