If you have ever worked as a teacher, then you will know that it can feel like putting out a five-alarm fire….with a plastic water pitcher. Except that the heat of the fire has ruined the plastic so now the only thing you can do is spit on it. At least, that’s how I felt when I was teaching.
While I was a university lecturer, I had to learn quickly how to put out many fires at once while (hopefully) keeping my cool. I had to convey a ton of material in a short time span in a way that was both informative and engaging to my students. As stressful as it was, I loved that job more than anything else until I started my Ph.D. work. And I found a teaching comrade in Haley Curfman, a.k.a., The Weary Teacher. But Haley’s teaching is a much taller order than mine was: she teaches second graders, the toughest critics of them all.
If you don’t follow Haley on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, then stop reading this and do it…NOW! (But please come back to reading this.) I first came across Haley’s page when I saw a video on Facebook of her infamous dress on which she asked her students to draw whatever made them happy.
“Christmas time was when we first did one,” Haley explains. “The students thought I was crazy, but they loved it. I set up a station at the back of the classroom where they could draw what makes them happy, what makes them think of Christmas. The next year, we did one during Valentine’s Day. This year we’ll do one on Dr. Seuss. It’s the same process, different time of year.”
This past year brought a different spin to the dress: it has been sent on a trip around the world. “It’s one of those things that just took off. I’ve heard from people all over the world and collaborated with them. How cool would it be to send one off and have them draw from people around the world?”
This initiative to help bridge the students in her classroom to other children across the world also ties into some of the other projects that Haley has implemented into her teaching methods. One of these innovative ideas is her Kindness Shirts. Each student is given a shirt with the word “KINDNESS” printed across it, and they each take turns writing kind things on others’ shirts.
Haley comments, “We do that during Kindness Week where we do RAK – random acts of kindness. We pair up with another grade and do things throughout the week for that class. We take them new pencils or make cards for them, especially during state testing. They each have a bingo chart that says things they can do throughout the week: tell someone something nice; give someone a hug; etc. They can see how much they’ve done. I don’t want a single student in my classroom leaving feeling like no one cares about me.”
To me, this should be the backbone of every teacher’s philosophy, and it is one that permeates through everything Haley does in her classroom. “Kindness is a huge thing I want them to take from me. You may not like everybody but you still have to be respectful.” What better way to teach how to be compassionate and tolerant and understand differences while seeing the world come alive through a traveling dress and random acts of kindness!
But Haley’s consciousness of her students’ personal development doesn’t stop there. She is especially cognizant of teaching her students coping mechanisms. “I have mindful kid cards which help them with different coping skills. If they do feel frustrated, upset, angry for any reason, we have breathing exercises to help them relax and become proactive instead of reactive.”
After hearing about all these initiatives Haley is taking in her classroom, would you guess that she has only just finished her THIRD YEAR OF TEACHING?! After finishing her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education at Oklahoma State University, she returned to Blackwell Elementary, the same school she attended as a child. Her connection to her roots, her passion for teaching, and her commitment to each child in her class are what has made this young teacher a powerhouse of an educator.
“I have no doubt that this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” Haley emphasizes. “I love working with little kids, and I love their honesty. They have such kind hearts, and I teach them that we always talk through our problems. I love being able to work with these kids on those personal levels and seeing their eyes light up and seeing it click; you can see it on their faces. We make a big deal out of those little accomplishments.”
These children are being infused with love and kindness every day; they are being given a sense of purpose and the knowledge that they matter in this world. It is this attitude and sense of dedication that we so desperately need. Thank you, Haley, for giving us an example of how influential one teacher can have on a person’s life.
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