In today’s show, Betty Shiver, my former curriculum director and the person who convinced me to become a teacher and I talk about teaching. We discuss hiring, inspiring, and having conversations that inspire people to change and improve their classrooms.
Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure.For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.
The Person Who Hired Me to Teach
Link to show: www.coolcatteacher.com/e194
Date: Thursday, November 16, 2017
Vicki: This week for the 10-Minute Teacher, we are running a couple of extended episodes. I wanted to talk to some people in my life for who I am really thankful for their presence.
Who is Betty Shiver?
Today, we have Ms. Betty Shiver. She was my curriculum director for many, many years. She also convinced me to go into teaching. If you want to know the secret behind who I am, it’s really because Ms. Betty has been there all these years. You would not see anything that I have on my blog without here. In fact, when I started blogging I went to her and said, “I’m doing this crazy thing called blogging. Will you read my blog?” She was kind of my accountability partner here on campus.
So, Ms. Betty, first of all… I was in the business world and you saw me and somehow you convinced me to try out teaching for a year. You’re kind of known for finding people who would make great teachers. I’m trying not to compliment myself, but there are other people that you’ve found who have just gone on to win all kinds of awards as well.
What do you look for to figure out who would make a great teacher?
Betty: Woooo. I guess I look for people with enthusiasm, people who like people (especially children), somebody intelligent, somebody who has energy and passion… Somebody who wants to do something and is excited… Somebody who is… I don’t know, it’s just that “something” and that gleam in the eye.
It’s not something you can put your finger on, but you can just see it — that “it” in people who want to do something special. They want to give. They want to effect.
And where in the world can you do more than teaching children? How can you effect the world more than in shaping the next generation? I don’t know. If you look at enough people, if you talk to them, you can just see it. You can just see it there.
Vicki: Now, you’ve been teaching for more than thirty years, and you love kids. But also, I just remember for example, when Flat Classroom happened. So many of the projects in my classroom happened because I went to you, and we had conversations.
You’re kind of famous for having conversations that spark change, and this is a difficult thing in many schools.
What’s your strategy for helping us teachers change and innovate?
I really don’t know how you do it. It’s kind of like I woke up one day and realized that all of the big things I’ve done have kind of come from a conversation with you. It’s like, What’s your secret? I want to know it, too!”
Betty: I guess it starts with listening to people. One of the things I do best is go to people and listen, “What are you doing? What do you want to do?”
“Well, if I can’t do that, why don’t we try something out…” And that’s where it starts.
Ideas. I got so many ideas from you. Then I just kind of took the ideas and ran with it.
It’s all in the approach with people. You approach, then you listen, then you suggest, and then you say, “Why don’t we try…” It’s kind of a gradual thing, that you get people to try new things or new ideas.
But the main thing is that you do it with them. You get them to buy in if YOU buy in. You become part of the process. If you do, then people will just about follow you anywhere if you’re with them. If you do it with them.
Vicki: So how do you make people feel like you’re with them? Because you know… I don’t know how you are where you are to have these conversations happen. (laughs)
DO you have habits? Do you like to walk the building? Do you like to pop in on people? How do you allow this, and nurture these conversations?
How do you nurture change-making conversations?
Betty: Yeah… Drop in whenever they’re free — before school, after school. You kind of become part of their personal lives in a way. “How’s your family? What’s going on with you?” You listen.
“What’s going on with your projects?” You know, what’s going on in their classroom. In so many ways, teachers are isolated. They like to talk about what they’re doing, and so sometimes you just listen.
When you listen and they know you’re interested and they’re open to what you have to say — because you’re’ open to what they have to say. So it’s kind of a two-way street.
Vicki: What do you think some of the biggest mistakes are that school leaders make? I mean it might be a curriculum leader. It might be whoever.
What are the biggest mistakes that people make in schools that make it hard to help teachers change?
Betty: Again, I think it’s (not) listening to them. I think the smartest people in our schools are the people in the classrooms, because they’re in the trenches.
I think sometimes big decisions — big sweeping decisions — are made that don’t concern the teachers, that don’t concern the children, and aren’t in the best welfare of the bottom line, (rather than) the children themselves. I think that’s a huge mistake.
When I think about why… “Why don’t kids read? Why can’t kids read?” That’s a big mystery to me. “Why do kids that can’t read come out of schools?”
We can teach children to read. It’s a lot of work. But I can’t understand WHY (laughs) those things don’t happen! They should.
Vicki: So, it’s listening. It’s really paying attention.
Betty: I think it is. I mean, there are a lot of good answers out there, if somebody’s willing to listen, and then try to make them happen.
Vicki: So, when you think back over thirty years, what do you think one of your biggest mistakes was? And you have to be careful, because we’re both at the same school, and we don’t name names, and all that. But just big picture, “I wish that I had done this differently.”
What are your biggest mistakes?
Betty: My biggest mistake was in my early years, when I just didn’t know any better.
I didn’t know anything about learning disabilities. I didn’t know that there were children that couldn’t learn normally. I mean, somewhere in the back of my mind, I had to have known something. But I look back and see the way that I treated some children, and… and… I hate it!
I feel so guilty about what I didn’t do for some children. I think that’s my biggest regret… the things that I didn’t know when I was younger, when I was in the classroom. Things I didn’t do.
Vicki: You know, learning differences or learning disabilities are just so hard, and that’s near and dear to your heart and my heart both. We’ve seen the kids who overcome and go on to do great things.
Do you have a moment that you think, “OK, this is one of my proud moments…” Like, “This is awesome. This is why I do this job.
What is a proud moment?
Betty: I think… maybe… when I got an email from a student who had left. She’d been gone 15 years. Oh, it was Facebook, and I got a message from her. She told me that she was getting her Masters Degree in Special Ed.
And she said, “Ms. Betty, I wanted you to know. I’ve been meaning to send this to you for years. You’re the reason that I’m in education. You’re the reason that I’m doing what I do.”
I taught her in middle school, and she was one of those kids… I always picked two children every year, wrote their names down, and I was going to give special attention to. She was one of my kids that year. I went to her ballgames, and I took her home because she had struggles at home.
But then when she graduated, she had troubles, she had lots of issues that I heard about through the grapevine. And then, you know, I wasn’t in touch with her.
And then out of the blue… that message came.
So I think, yeah. I think that’s one of the most wonderful things about being in education or being a teacher. You never know who you’ve touched, or how you’ve them.
And so, yeah. Those things kind of keep you going.
Vicki: So as we finish up, you said, “You give me so many quotes. And I quote you all of the time.” One of them is that, “Great teachers are repeaters.”
Because we just have to repeat ourselves so much and it’s ridiculous, but we do. We have to remind kids, “Why are you here? How do you act?” and that’s just one of the things that you do.
But what do you think makes a great teacher? What’s your word, to all the teachers listening, about, “OK. Do this. Because that makes you a great teacher.”
What makes a great teacher?
Betty: Respect for each child, regardless of their ability, regardless of their temperament. You respect them as a person.
Fairness. There are a lot of definitions of fairness. But you treat each child fairly.
I think if you can respect them and treat them fairly, you’ll get that back. And if you do that, then you can teach them.
Vicki: OK, I have to do one more question. This is already an extended episode.
What makes you furious?
Betty: When kids aren’t treated fairly. When their needs are not put first in the classroom. When teachers just don’t look at kids as people with feelings and needs and lives outside of school. They just don’t “see” them. I just think that’s so sad. And it hurts as much as it makes you angry. And there are some things that you just can’t fix… and that makes me furious.
Vicki: Yeah. Because life is a bear, and it’s tough. But you know, teaching’s worth it.
I really don’t know how you convinced me to become a teacher.
Betty: (laughs) I don’t either!
Vicki: (laughs) But I will go on the record and say that basically, what I remember is that you said, “I think that you would make a great high school teacher.”
I was teaching some college classes at the time, and I had my own business. It was totally not on my radar. But I will say that at the time, I knew that one of my three kids had a learning difference, and I knew that there was technology to learn. So I think that was a part of the equation.
What I remember is that Ms. Betty said, “Give it a year, and let’s see what you think.” (laughs)
That was 16 years ago. (laughs)
Betty: And I was desperate at the time, too! (laughs)
Yeah. She had kind of been left without a technology teacher at the last minute. I think it was about a month before school started or something. And we did a year. And we traveled the world together. We’ve been to Qatar and Mumbai…
Betty: And Dubai.
Vicki: And Dubai.
We’ve been a lot of places together. It’s been exciting.
One thing that we’ve done is this whole immersion thing… when we travel. The kids back home immerse. And I think that’s kind of been neat, hasn’t it?
Betty: It has.
Betty: And we did the Flint River Project, which was a great curriculum project, maybe one of the best we’ve ever done.
Vicki: I think the Flint River Project is probably the single best project I’ve ever seen in my life.
Describe that for us a little bit.
What was the Flint River project?
Betty: We took the whole ninth grade and broke them up…
Vicki: Actually, it was the whole high school, wasn’t it?
Betty: Yeah. The whole high school. We broke them across class groupings into science and social studies and English and math, and…
Vicki: I had a technology group.
Betty: We had — what was it? Four days? And we did the science group who canoed the river, did water testing and biology. We tramped through the river.
We had the history group who did a dig.
The English group wrote poetry on the river and did photography.
And the math group… and the technology group… I don’t remember what all we did. They all had to blog, and they had to post pictures. Then everybody did presentations. Everybody participated. All of the teachers participated. Well, it was just a great project.
Vicki: Yeah. It was hard work.
But a lot of the kids from that time say it was one of the greatest projects.
Well, this week, as we talk about things that we’re thankful for, I am very thankful for Ms. Betty Shiver… and for her mentoring all of these years… and all that she’s done for students, because it’s all about the kids. She’s helped me adjust my thinking when I messed up. I have messed up a lot.
I just appreciate that — and this is for all of you school leaders out there — if you’re the kind of person that you can go to with your problem, and not feel condemned for having that problem? (If you can) actually feel like, “Let’s try this,” or “Let’s try to do that,” instead of just making you feel — I hate to say — like an idiot.
Ms. Betty has never made me feel like I was dumb or couldn’t do it. But she was a fellow traveler on the journey. I think that school leaders can learn a lot from her. Honestly, if you look at all of my stuff? Her fingerprints are everywhere, because she’s tried a lot of stuff with me, and she’s encouraged me, and helped me become a much better teacher.
So I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey into someone I’m thankful for.
And I look forward to sharing other episodes.
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford
Bio as submitted
Betty has been in education since 1968, first starting as a language arts teacher. She has been teaching at Westwood Schools in Camilla, Georgia since 1980 and served as interim headmaster from 2001-2002. Betty Shiver has been the curriculum direct at Westwood Schools for many years. Although she recently “retired” from that job, she still teaches composition to ninth graders.
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