The MRES teachers

To the Editor:

I have read every article about Miller's Run Elementary School with growing concern that more balance is needed. So without dismissing the financial, social and personnel difficulties that the school faces, I will defend my professional colleagues at MRES.

As a field supervisor of junior and senior Education majors at Lyndon State College, I work with faculty and staff at many regional schools. In the recent past, I have spent more time at Miller's Run Elementary School than at any other school, and have worked closely with Ms. Barbara Miller (now retired) in second grade, Ms. Dianne Stahler in third grade, Ms. Sarah Goodwin in 4th grade and Ms. Patricia "Trish" Norsworthy in grades five and six. I have also been a guest in the classrooms of Ms. Marianne Hertz in first grade, Ms. Nancy Brown in special education, Ms. Sherri Fitch (now retired) school counselor and Mr. Matthew Baroch and Mr. Patrick Ham in middle school. They are excellent role models for our future teachers.

Day after day, MRES teachers and public school teachers across our nation are on the front lines, enhancing knowledge, developing skills and giving hope to all children who enter their classrooms. They face significant impediments to learning that have nothing to do with their teaching per se, but which they must address nonetheless. And they do so in full view of an often critical public, some of whom have particularly high standards when it comes to telling others what they should do.

Allow me to make my point with a story. A few years ago, I visited a school in northern Vermont and observed as a teacher collected information for an introductory lesson on statistics (mean --median -- mode). She asked the children to count the number of rooms in their homes and then plotted their responses on a number line, all the while emphasizing that she was collecting "data." As one would expect, the children's answers hovered between five and nine, except for one boys' answer -- "21." His classmates were incredulous, even angry. The teacher calmly asked for an explanation, to which he replied with equal anger, "My mom's apartment has five rooms, my dad's house has eight rooms and my grandma's house has eight rooms, so 5+8+8=21." Without so much as blinking, the teacher allowed his answer to stand, extended her number line and deftly moved the class back to the lesson. She knew that for this boy, while he was no doubt loved, "home" at this moment in time had three locations.

What a pleasure it was to observe as this teacher communicated to a tired, sad, angry and confused little boy that she understood him in the most profound way, that she cared about him and his education, that she was his teacher and that he would learn, and that she would be there for him and his classmates tomorrow and the next day and the next.

This boy's sense of home, and the debilitating level of stress-induced emotions that it suggests, would not change by changing schools. Moving one's own child away from him to another school would not necessarily introduce "better" company; increasing numbers of tired, sad, angry and confused children attend every public and private school in the land. And the recent proposal to redefine school districts and send entire communities of children to another town would not help any child escape from these impediments to learning. In fact, such a dramatic measure could further undermine many children's sense of "home."

The MRES teachers and staff with whom I am familiar are very skilled and are fully committed to educating all students and improving all lives. They work extraordinarily hard to eke out small victories that in their cumulative effect can produce extraordinary results. The small victory described above could have happened at Miller's Run Elementary School. In fact, it did; and it is replicated in classes several times a day, every day.

I wish us all well. And thanks to our teachers who show up ready to teach our children day after day.

Timothy Miles Sturm, Ph. D.

Professor of Education and Special Education

And Chair, Education Department, Lyndon State College

Lyndonville, Vt.

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