Sunday, February 21, 2010

Strength to Make a Difference

They taught us how to read and write, and where to find Louisiana on a map. They helped us understand the difference between, “May I go to the bathroom?” and “Can I go to the bathroom?” They work long hours on their feet, and have dedicated their lives to educating others. They are the people who found the strength to be teachers.

I recently started teaching writing classes at an elementary school in Lafayette. I enjoy watching the students learn, but by the end of it, I’m exhausted. The constant standing, speaking at an above average volume, and trying to keep the attention of a room full of children, drains me of my energy.

But my sister-in-law, Rhonda Couvillon, seems to take the challenges of being an educator in stride. Over the past twenty-five years she has taught Kindergarten, first, second, fourth and fifth grades. She has a bachelor’s degree in Education, a Masters in Elementary Education, and was named, “Teacher of the Year,” in both elementary and middle school.

“I became a teacher because it seemed like a good career to have when raising a family,” says Rhonda. “I treat my students the same way I want my children, Ross and Taylor, to be treated; with dedication, compassion and understanding.”

According to Rhonda, the biggest challenge for her in teaching is the constant revision of her lesson plan to keep up with technology and the ever-changing world. But she feels that this is important to keep the students interested in learning.

“I run a lot of ideas for teaching off of my own children,” says Rhonda. “If I’m bored writing a lesson plan, I know my class will be bored when I teach it.”

The advice Rhonda would give to new teachers is to be flexible, and to use all avenues to get the point across to students. She suggests taking advantage of teachable moments, even if they are not a part of the lesson plan.

“I try to teach using all learning styles,” says Rhonda. “My philosophy is, ‘Hear it, see it, feel it.’”

One of Rhonda’s most memorable moments as an educator was when she taught a class of first graders, and then years later taught the same kids in fifth grade. She said it allowed her to see their growth and who they were becoming.

“Another memorable moment was when a little girl came up to me and said that another student had called her the, ‘F word,’ says Rhonda. “When I asked her to say the word, she answered, ‘Cow.’

Rhonda says that although her career is difficult at times, she has learned a lot from her students. They taught her to be more patient and accepting of different personalities.

“The best part of teaching is knowing that I’m making a difference,” says Rhonda. “I love it when students tell me stories about what’s going on in their lives. It makes me feel connected with them.”

Rhonda says that if she weren’t a teacher, she’d be a tour guide because she loves to travel. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, exercising and spending time with her family. She says this helps relieve stress from her sometimes hectic days.

“Where do you get the strength to teach?” I asked Rhonda when I interviewed her.

“From my children and my husband, Joey,” Rhonda said. “Your brother is my rock. No matter what kind of day he has had, he is always willing to listen to me. No offense, but I got the best one out of the bunch of you and your brothers.”

It’s Rhonda’s sense of humor and her constant support of my endeavors that makes her one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. Although I never set foot in her classroom, she has always been there to guide me and help me through any challenges I faced. There are many characteristics of a good teacher, but it’s the genuine care and concern my sister-in-law shows towards others that make her a great one.

“I’m not going to argue with you about Joey being the best one,” I said. “I’ll let you take that up with my brothers and the other sister-in-laws. But as strong as you are, I know that you have to get your strength from other places as well. So I’ll re-phrase the question. What motivates you to wake up each morning, get in your car, drive to school and teach?”

“I really enjoy working with the faculty and staff at Rene Rost Middle School,” Rhonda said. “But it’s my students who keep me going back everyday. I know they are waiting for me, and for some I am the only constant thing in their lives. Their needs give me strength.”

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