Don't tell me the odd bit of inspiration doesn't help !!! It's always uplifting to remind ourselves (and others) that teaching is not just a job - it's a calling. Whether we realise it at the time or not, we often make the kind of difference that helps people shape their lives. Don't ever underestimate your influence.

Gingerbread Haka
This is great - the kids love it. A kids haka done by gingerbread men (as part of a bakery Ad campaign).

If you feel you can cope with a mushy moment you might like to browse through a collection of Inspirational Teacher Stories that have been donated by the users of Lessonplans page.com. You can also post your own stories. (Great boost to get us through those cynical and exhausted moments).

"Keep an eye on him !"

I've always regarded those "Chicken Soup" type stories with a degree of cynicism. It's not that easy to recognise the effect that we have on other people's lives or even if you're making any kind of headway at all, and let's face it - we're often the last ones to hear about the outcomes of our efforts. Most of the time it's just darned hard work with little affirmation but... I still believe every student is worth the effort and (like most of us ) - I have a story that's worth sharing.

It was early in my teaching career and I was teaching 9 & 10 year olds. At the beginning of the year I'd had the usual information from previous teachers about the make-up of this class, accompanied with plenty of deficit thinking about some of the little characters I was inheriting. Apparently they'd made their mark and a few of them had substantial family histories which just reinforced their behaviour. I was warned particularly about one little guy - sullen, angry, withdrawn and from "that family". "You know - the one with all the ratbags" - a whole family with convictions for theft, drugs, vandalism etc. "Keep an eye on him " they said.

When I first met Tai (not his real name) he certainly looked the part - hoodie up over his head, jumpy, shifty - wouldn't look you in the eye, answered in non committal grunts, avoided contact with authority figures, a couple of incidents with other kids - threw his chair over etc. He preferred to be ignored and that was the easiest strategy for all of us. So long as he looked busy and didn't bother anyone I was happy, and so long as noone bothered him, he seemed happy. I knew I wasn't making any kind of difference to him and on the worst days I didn't even care, I had 33 other students to worry about. I concentrated on the ones that were easier to get to and began making headway - but ...I was a teacher and I was uncomfortable. I knew I wasn't doing my job with this student, I wasn't helping him at all. So, guilt set in and over a couple of weeks I started to pay more attention to this kid. I began to observe his behaviours and interactions with others, and once I started, I noticed that he spent a lot of time quietly observing mine. I began to really keep my eye on him, And that...was a revelation. Over time I got to know this child as I should have initially - as a professional educator should have - without preconception and false assumption, without letting deficit thinking shape my views and perceptions.

Tai was a painfully shy little boy, he had a self-esteem level which reached below the ground, he had committed no crimes but lived in a home with his Aunty and older cousins who were unemployed, physically intimidating and constantly up to mischief. He was Maori and so didn't like to make sustained eye contact and stare me down or anyone else in authority, because it showed a lack of respect, besides the fact that he so wanted to be 'un -noticed'. He just wanted to disappear, hence the constant head down and hoodie pulled over his head in class. It was a form of protection - all he wanted to do was disappear up inside it at school. He hated the place, it made him so physically uncomfortable he was almost paralysed with it at times. He froze when certain staff members walked into the room. 'Good' kids teased him - they knew it was OK to pick on Tai because he was always in trouble and if he ever reacted (and most of the time actually, he didn't) then it was always his fault, because somehow it always had been at this school.

This child got the blame when he didn't deserve it and seldom attempted to stand up for himself . He was physically and emotionally bullied by his older cousins at home and subjected to ongoing emotional abuse for his family history and personal vulnerability at school. He believed he was bad, useless, stupid and worthless - why shouldn't he, everyone else did. Everyone except his Nanny. He'd lived with his Nanny (Gran) for a while before he'd come to stay with his cousins and SHE had loved him. He must have been the saddest little boy when he'd had to leave her.

I'm ashamed of how long it took me to work out what the situation really was with Tai. Even after the gradual realisation - I struggled with what to do about it. How do you change the negative perceptions of the people around him - let alone his own deep feelings of worthlessness and frustration ? I read and thought, and tried things - mostly ineffectively, but it all started to make sense after I attended a workshop where Dr Michelle Borba spoke. Michelle spoke about the difference we can make, as educators, in developing self-esteem in students and the power we have over shaping young lives - whether we want it or not. She had many practical strategies - most useful to me was making praise specific, earned and owned - among many other detailed ideas. I came away armed with mental material and all fired up to make a difference. That was a kind of turning point - and yes the rest of it is like a "Chicken Soup" story.

Over two years Tai and I built our relationship. I remember times following him around the room when the other kids were at assembly, painfully trying to make some connections and get him to respond when he was especially withdrawn, (which never seemed to work at that stage) - and gradually praising him for specific skills in class (which did work). I never made a big deal of it, just a word (so that others heard), a pat on the shoulder, a nod. Simple recognition when it was earned and consistant expectations. I'd mention to the class, matter of factly after I'd been working with Tai's group "if anyone wanted help with @#@# (some maths skill) Tai was really good at it, get him to show you when he's got a minute." Same as I did for all the others. After a while I visited his home and praised him for his maths work to his Aunty and his cousins (gulp). Aunty was initially defensive, then surprised and proud, she'd only heard from the schools when' her boys' were in more trouble.

These ongoing strategies and many others, really did make a difference. Before long the other kids began to regard him with deserved respect. They thought he was a maths whizz and so he became one. It was kind of incredible - Tai slowly came to believe it himself. He went from below average in everything to above average in norm-referenced tests, specifically achieving well in maths. His confidence continued to develop, and by the end of the two years , he was a respected leader in the classroom. A sensible, responsible, patient young man - still shy and retiring at times, but so much happier and more outgoing. He was seldom in trouble at school and was regarded with more 'benefit of the doubt' by other teachers in any incidents. And the hood came down.

I know it wasn't clear sailing from there, Tai had a whole lot of 'schooltime' left to go , but did my best to pass on my impressions of a great kid in his records. We've lost touch - but whereever he is now - he needs to be proud of himself. He put up with so much undeserved abuse (yes - that's exactly what it is when children are treated without proper consideration and respect for their personal needs) and he still managed to find himself and shine. What a brilliant kid. I had some of the best advice I've ever had in teaching that year - "Keep an eye on him!" They were absolutely right. We all need to keep an eye out for kids like Tai.