Finding Your Champion

By Kathleen Nelson
Jan. 3, 2018

Like many classrooms across Liberia, mine is what you might call "spatially challenged."

Volunteer Kathleen's students having a classroom discussion.

Seventy students were never meant to sit in such close quarters to one another; nevertheless, they persist in coming to school every day and fighting to find their seat amidst the sea of mangled desks and chairs. Unsurprisingly, having a seating chart was a dream of mine that died.

When my students struggled to find their seats each morning, how could I force them to sit in a rigid system? Eventually, we settled upon neat and, sometimes tidy rows. Like this, at least, I felt like I could start to do my job. 

Circulating was always my favorite technique from Teach Like a Champion, perhaps because it is so simple and, more so, because it is so effective. It is challenging to keep seventy students on task, and I cannot claim to have mastered that just yet, however, being able to walk up and down the aisles of desks has helped me get to know my students, their abilities and more importantly, how best to encourage their talents. 

A female student helps a male student understand a problem.

There is a young woman in my 11th-grade class who I discovered because I took the time to walk around and stop to look at her work.

Like me, she is never the first to raise her hand (if she raises it at all). She is quiet, well-behaved and dedicated to her work. In a class of seventy, some are more eager than others to share their knowledge, she’s easy to overlook. Taking the time to stop and glance over her work revealed a young woman with such great potential to succeed in mathematics and there our journey began.

More and more, I would stop beside her while circulating the classroom, checking on her progress during our Do Now’s. Having that opportunity to correct her work and reinforce the ethics of Right is Right, had such a profound effect on her confidence and her desire to get the right answer the first time, that soon enough she began to call my attention to her work long before I had a chance to make my way to her desk.

A female student participates in a male dominated political discussion.

One of my proudest moments as a teacher is the day that this young woman decided to come to the board and solve one of our ‘Do Now’ problems. 

Coming to the board as a female student is a brave choice for some. Boys might make comments about the length of your skirt, the state of your hair, how slowly you may or may not be writing, and what if you make a mistake? Nevertheless, this particular student was confident enough to overcome that fear, and it gave me the opportunity to praise her in front of her peers. Giving her Precise Praise helped to raise her up in front of her classmates and, I hope, encourage the other young women in the room to take that same opportunity in the future.

I cannot claim I have mastered how to 'teach like a champion’ yet, but I am certain I helped to teach a champion, and that is more than I could have hoped for even amidst the sea of mangled desks and chairs.

A female student encourages young women to go to school using community drama.