written by Anna Jackson, serving on the Gossler Park Elementary School team generously supported by Dartmouth-Hitchcock & Lincoln Financial
When you walk into Mrs. O’Leary’s third grade classroom, you see three women moving from table to table, reminding students to focus, to be kind, to worry about themselves, and to do their best work. You may not be able to tell which of those three women is Mrs. O’Leary, because you’ll never find her behind her desk. She is answering questions thoughtfully and intentionally, talking students through their frustrations, and moving around the room, making sure that no one is disengaged and that each student is getting everything that they can from the lesson at hand.
From the first day I met Mrs. O’Leary, I knew she meant business. Her students know it too. They also know that Mrs. O’Leary expects their best work, and that she will never dismiss their questions or concerns. She is flexible and intentional with her directions and expectations, anticipates problems, is proactive about finding solutions, and never stops working to ensure that each student is getting the support they need.
The persistence and care with which Mrs. O’Leary approaches her work are essential to our students. They cannot afford to have their concerns dismissed, or to have one more person give up on them or lower their expectations. Mrs. O’Leary knows that. That’s why she shows up every day ready to face whatever new challenges the day may bring, handling each setback with grace and diligence.
Mrs. O’Leary supports students who are defiant or discouraged by giving them important jobs in the classroom. This is how they know she believes in them. She never lowers her expectations and instead alters her teaching style or the learning environment to match the students’ needs. This is how they know she has faith in them.
I admire my partner teacher because her commitment to her students means she refuses to take the easy road. She does not give up on students who have the hardest time staying on task or latching on to concepts. She holds them to the same standards as the rest of the class. She nurtures kindness and proactive behavior by being observant during times when it would be easier to disengage. She notices when a student is being helpful or going out of their way to be kind and praises them for this behavior.
When faced with anger, bitterness, or defiance, she responds with patience and kindness. She demonstrates her refusal to back down and her belief in the potential of our students when she asks thoughtful questions instead of dismissing anger or frustration around seemingly trivial problems. She understands that small conflicts are gigantic in the mind of a small human, and that a small setback can seem like a huge fall. She takes this knowledge and uses it to shape the way she speaks with students.
Mrs. O’Leary’s high expectations have taught me that it is very important to always be observing students, so that I can catch them doing something kind or proactive. Our students respond very well to praise and positive redirection, while correction or criticism often saps their confidence.
At the beginning of the year, Mrs. O’Leary told me this is the most challenging class she’s ever had. I told her I already felt very lucky to get to be on her team. I am very fortunate to get to work with her because she has taught me to keep looking ahead and never give up. Our students have faced and continue to face many challenges in their lives and with their learning, but they are so kind, loving, joyful, and resilient, and I am incredibly privileged to get to work with Mrs. O’Leary to find the joys in each day.
To learn more about City Year’s approach to working with students, click here.