By Jenn Prentice
Her name was Cynthia Donaldson. It was her first year teaching. My name at the time was Jennifer Hadra. I was four and it
was my first time attending school. Unlike many of my peers who spent some time in preschool, I had never been in a classroom before
and at nearly 4-6 inches shorter and 5-10 lbs lighter than all of my classmates, I was terrified.
But not Mrs. Donaldson. Although it was her first classroom experience as well, she seemed (at least to a kindergartener) to have
it all together. While Mrs. Donaldson didn’t teach me about the inverted pyramid, help me search for internships or challenge my intellect while debating the merits of
various interpersonal communication theories (like some of my college professors did) she taught me a few important lessons
that I have carried with me throughout my adult life:
1.) Learning is fun-Whether it was learning my ABCs or practicing basic addition, Mrs. Donaldson made simple concepts come to life.
A history lesson of the first Thanksgiving was not enough for Mrs. Donaldson. Making our own pilgrim costumes in art
class and eating feed similar to what would have been consumed in that day and time was more her style. Field trips were frequent
and recess was a chance to learn about plant life. We were rewarded for completing homework assignments and honored
publically when we perfected our cursive.
2.) I can do anything I put my mind to- When I was discouraged because I was
put in the Red Birds reading group (the one for average readers) rather than the more advanced Blue Bird group, Mrs. Donaldson
stayed 30 minutes late three times a week to work with me on my phonics skills. By first grade, I was at the top of my class
in reading comprehension.
3.) You don’t have to be popular to be cool- As previously mentioned, I was the youngest, smallest person in my class and often
lacked confidence in myself and my abilities because of it. However, Mrs. Donaldson took a personal interest in me
and paid special attention to how I was doing not only academically, but also socially each day. I went to a small, private
school and there were only two other girls in my class. These girls had gone to preschool together and often excluded me from
playing together at recess. During the times I was left out, Mrs. Donaldson herself came over and played with me. Since
all of my classmates loved her (and they were too young to understand the concept of teacher’s pet), many of my
peers–including the girls who were excluding me–ended up thinking I was cool and wanting to play with me.
This was a priceless boost of confidence.
I know that this is a blog focused on teaching and working at the collegiate level and my example is, well, elementary.
But I often wonder how much of a difference I could make in the lives of my students if I was a bit more like Mrs. Donaldson.
Rather than giving a boring, Power Point filled lecture, why not incorporate more group work, technology or guest speakers
into my class sessions? And that student who I can see is struggling to grasp a concept, but I don’t think I have enough time to
tutor? Maybe there is an extra 30 minutes in my schedule after all.
Having been a college student for many years, I know (as I’m sure all of you do as well) that it is a major time of transition.
And like I was in Kindergarten, as a college student, I was fairly impressionable. So, perhaps we should all be a little
more like Mrs. Donaldson and go that extra mile. You never know when it might make a lasting impression or at the very
least, get a blog post written about you.