Thursday, May 28, 2009

One Amazing Teacher - Barbara Smith

Barbara Smith's 4th grade class - Corydon Intermediate School, Corydon, Indiana
I visited the class in March. Barbara is back row, left.

Barbara Smith is a life-long friend. We grew up within two blocks of each other and played together practically every summer day.
She and her 4th grade classes have been a continuing support for my series, "Cynthia's Attic." Barbara is retiring this year and I asked if she'd share thoughts on her years of teaching, special experiences, and how she's viewing retirement.

Thank you, so much, Barbara, for sharing your experiences. Our mutual friend, Cynthia, knew what she wanted to be almost from the time she could talk. When did you know you wanted to be a teacher?

I thought I also wanted to be a nurse, but when I got a good look at lots of blood, I changed my mind and decided I would become a high school social studies teacher because I always loved and admired Gail Enlow, our social studies teacher. I love the political world and world history and geography.

At the University of Evansville my freshman year, I got into the last two senior political science classes in my field of study and I had to compete with people who were almost ready for law school. It was terrible. I passed, but not with grades you would want in your major field. I think this was God's way of telling me, to go into something else. I switched to elementary education and never looked back. So I guess, I have to credit Gail Enlow for getting me into education and those senior political science students for getting me into elementary education. I still talk politics to my 4th graders and I love teaching Indiana History so it is the best of two world.

Was there a certain moment when you knew you'd made a difference in a student's life?

Over the years there have been some students that stand out that I know I changed the course of their lives. I remember one little girl who was cubby and was so down on herself because she was not thin like the other girls. She was bright and really had a lot of wit about her. I worked really hard to give her the self-confidence she needed to come out of the cocoon she has put around herself. She blossomed into a wonderful young lady and will soon have her teaching degree.

I've tried to show all of my students love and to get an understanding of the situations they face at home. I can tell I have made a difference when I look at their faces and see the delight of learning. I have watched good students become great students. I have watched great students soar to higher places. But my favorite is to watch a failing student take those steps that lead to success. Some years the steps are small, but other years my struggling students take large leaps. When the students come to me as adults and say, "Mrs. Smith, I loved your class. I learned so much. I want my child to be in your class, too." Then I feel really proud.

From the time you began your career until now, is there one specific change you've noticed in teaching?

No Child Left Behind sounds so good in theory, but it is not practical. It will never be possible for 100% of the American children to be reading on grade level. Children learn at different rates and we cannot expect everyone to get to or stay on level. Then placing the judgment of passing and failing on one test at the end of the year is absolutely ridiculous. Too much pressure is put on children and teachers today. We keep trying new things before we give the old things time to work. Teachers are bogged down with paperwork and documentation for the government. The stress level is tremendous.

How hard is it to step away? Any favorite/funny moments you'd like to share?

I will miss the daily contact with the child; watching them learn and soar to new places. I'll miss the laughter and the fun times that I have had. I remember one little girl at New Middletown who was so much fun to have in my room. She was always excited to be at school and a real riot with her thinking and ideas. One morning she came running into my classroom off the bus and up to my desk. I remember thinking, What is Edy up to now? She shouted, "Mrs. Smith, I'm gonna be....", and then she vomited all over me. She and I both went home that day. I cleaned up and came back, but she did not. Since then, if a students says they’re sick, out of the room they go.

What do you want to do when you retire?

When I retire I want to visit some places around the country and maybe get up enough nerve to travel over the ocean. I have a great fear of flying over water. I want to do some remodeling of my home. But mainly, I want to sit on my patio and read some good books ( like Cynthia's Attic) and do nothing for a long time. Of course, I will have to spend lots of time with my grandchildren. They are the light of my life.

Finally, who was the better baseball/softball player when we were kids? You or me?

Well, now that is a hard question because that was a very long time ago. As I remember, I could hit harder, but you could run faster so we both made about the same number of home runs. We were both really good though, if I remember correctly. We will have to ask Cynthia and Becky about that. Maybe we should get together and play a game. I think that lot behind Alan's house is still empty. Becky could bring the bat and I have a ball.

Barbara, you’ve been a delight; bringing back so many memories and allowing me to pick your brain on teaching—the good, the bad and the ugly (your sick student comes to mind!).

It would be fun to have that softball game as long as a chiropractor is on standby! Thanks so much, and good luck with your retirement!

Cynthia's Attic: The Magician's Castle (Dec. 2009!)
Buy the series on Amazon


Mayra Calvani said...

Great interview! We need more teachers like you, Barbara!

Mary Cunningham said...

I agree, Mayra! She's been so supportive of me and my series, too. Not only will the students miss her, I'm going to miss her, too!!