I teach at one of the largest elementary schools in Kansas with 98 percent of our students coming from low-income families and neighborhoods with frequent drug use and gang activity. Many students lack adult supervision, heat, running water and other necessities that help students succeed.
I know that my fourth grade class may not have the privileges that some do, but I never thought that should stop them from learning and achieving their goals. Since becoming an educator, I’ve been a big fan of Ron Clark and his book “The Essential 55,” which has 55 rules for a successful classroom. One of his rules is about completing homework every night without fail. I wanted to implement this process into my classroom.
As a class, we all worked on a goal for how many consecutive school days everyone could go completing their homework. I started by suggesting 15 days in a row, and it was the kids’ idea to strive for 100 days. They even said that they wanted to inspire others and prove that they could meet their goal. I hung a banner outside our classroom so we could keep track of how many days in a row every student had completed their homework.
I assign different homework assignments to different students because they are all at different reading levels. Many students are also new to the country, so English is their second language. They all have my phone number and could call after school hours if they were ever stuck, so I tried to instill in them that there was no excuse to not get their homework done. I wanted to set the behavior now at 10 years old because the expectation and pressure won’t get any easier once they’re in middle school or high school.
We made it all the way to 30 days in a row when two children forgot. But we learned that we had to brush it off and move forward to keep working toward the goal. We started at zero again, but this time, made it all the way to 100 days and even finished out the school year with a total of 115 days in a row! I was so proud of the kids and they were so proud of themselves. We had a big celebration, and I even dyed my hair orange and wore a prom dress to school as promised to my students.
In addition to teaching, I work part time at LongHorn Steakhouse and was part of the restaurant’s opening team in west Wichita in 2011. The shifts allow me the flexibility to continue to teach, and I can work more during the summer or less when I have a lot of school priorities. Working a second job allows me to do extra activities or buy more resources for my classroom that the school cannot afford. My LongHorn team has also been great in supporting my students as well. They even hosted a lunch for them. Most of the students had never been in a restaurant before. Another teacher from my school will also be starting with LongHorn soon.
These students, at about 10 years old, took a challenge and were able to inspire our whole town. Many parents came up to me to express their gratitude, and we received a lot of support from the community. Many pitched in to help them celebrate milestones along the way. Even when local organizations donated money to our class, my students just wanted to take the money and donate it forward to others.
Now the school year is coming to an end, and it is hard to say goodbye to them. I’m switching to teaching sixth grade next year, so I will see them again in a few years. I will also be reworking my homework project to try to make it engaging for sixth graders.
To learn more about the inspiring children in my class and our homework project, click here.