Viking Saga: What are some misconceptions about teachers?
Patrice Merendina: The expectation that all teachers should be really good at what they do…Not every pastor is great to listen to, as is every teacher. Sometimes when you get a really good [teacher], you might forever compare other teachers to them and say to yourself, “why does this teacher do it like that? It’s better across the hall,” or, “It would be more motivating if they did this.” Similar to the concept of it being the kids’ responsibility to make themselves happy in school, it’s also a really important life perspective to realize that there is no right way to do anything.
VS: What are some changes you want to see as you continue teaching?
PM: I wish there were more teachers willing to have hard conversations about their own classroom and students’ success, or students’ failures. Teachers get insecure or defensive of what they’re doing because, in open conversations, they could admit they’re doing something wrong. For people who love kids and want to teach, that’s a very hard thing to admit. [More teachers should realize] that we all aren’t perfect and that some kids are just really hard to reach.
VS: How can teachers work to improve their set curriculums?
PM: One reason I left teaching fourth grade was the reading program that I was told to use. I’m working with some teachers that love the reading program, and they say things like, “Kids love the workbooks!” and I listen to that, but are you speaking for the kids? And do the kids have a choice, or are they acting like they love it because they love you?…Less money has to be spent on textbooks and more should be put into teacher development. Send them to workshops, or let them go take a course where teachers continue to learn as much as the kids do. Part of what I like as a teacher is encouraging kids to want to learn forever, so then why would I, at 25 years old with a teaching certificate and a master’s degree, feel like I’ve learned everything there is to learn?
VS: Many kids compare school to“prison.” How can teachers and students work together to create a healthier environment?
PM: Happiness is easier for some than others, and I see that a lot in kids. They say, “it’s not fun, I don’t like it.” Well, what are you doing to like those 45 minutes? What are you putting into it to enjoy it? There’s a lot of immaturity in expecting that someone is going to care about you more than you care about you…For teachers, humor is always very important to have in the classroom. Kids can’t be stressed or feel anxious or dislike their environment if they’re laughing…If I think about some of the hardships [students] have come to me with, I had to be loving and supporting, first, of the human, and care about them, and then get some work out of them…Students are humans first, students second.