How to Be a Life-Changing Teacher

How to Be a Life-Changing Teacher

Hillary Fairbanks is driven to show that a good teacher can change a child’s life, according to a report by MLive/Jackson Citizen Patriot.

Fairbanks, 46, teaches kindergarten and first grade at the Jackson Public Schools Montessori Center in Michigan. She and fellow teacher Melissa Choate teach their classes in a “looping” pattern — staying with their same class of kindergarteners as they move on to first grade, before teaching kindergarten again and repeating the process.

Growing up in a time when most teachers around her didn’t have the training or resources to handle energetic students like her, Fairbanks treasures the handful of adults who tried to meet her on her own level – like her shop teacher David Hood and her basketball coach Darrell Dunckel.

She aims to be that same type of positive influence in her own students’ lives.

“It kind of put a chip on my shoulder, because I felt like people were attacking me when I got good grades and was a pretty good kid, but I just had a hard time with all of that energy,” Fairbanks says. “When I finally got a teacher who understood me and worked with me, I was like ‘this is what I want to do – I want to help kids that people need to understand a little bit better.’ That was really the turning point for me.”

With 23 years in education, Fairbanks explains how teaching changed her life, and how she tries to change the lives of her young students.

If I’m working with these (young) kids, and I start out with them and they realize that they don’t have to sit in a chair to learn – that if they’re on the floor and they’re laying down and they’re comfortable working and they’re learning – that’s okay to learn that way. If I can start with them at this age and let them know that everybody’s learning and thinking isn’t the same and that as long as they’re moving toward their goals, as long as they’re not disrupting others and they’re working together, it doesn’t matter what that looks like.”

Fairbanks loves watching children grow. “When they come in here – especially in kindergarten – they don’t even know how to walk in a line, and they don’t know how to do anything for themselves at all. I let them see what they’re capable of, because a lot of adults are afraid little kids won’t do things and try things because it’s going to be too hard, or they’ve never done it. But they can do it if you teach them how. I get to see them come in so raw with hardly any skills, and then now – 123 days into school – I can walk out of my classroom (I don’t, but I could) – and they know what they’re supposed to be doing. They grow so much.

“Most of the years that I’ve taught have been in kindergarten and first grade, so when you have a student who’s 5 or 6 years old, the chances that they still know you when they graduate high school or when they have their own families or when they get married lessen each year – that’s a long time to keep relationships. Those kids that I still have really good relationships with – I have children that are now 25 years old that I still call on their birthday, children that come and read in my classroom when they’re adults, children that are dance instructors who are teaching my grandchildren dance right now. The fact that I have so many relationships with my students when I taught them so young is probably my highlight. When I see somebody or when somebody calls me or tags me in a Facebook post about, “Who’s your favorite teacher” and I know I had them 20 years ago, it means I had to have made some sort of difference. I’m proud of that.”

MLive/Jackson Citizen Patriot

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