Award Winning teacher Aimee Ross talks about how she’s learned from her students through struggle, brokenness and the ups and downs of life. Today’s show is an inspiring look into the journey of teaching, being recognized for your work, and realizing that the students are why we teach.
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Blessings for the Broken Teacher
Link to show: www.coolcatteacher.com/e266
Date: March 5, 2018
Vicki: Today, we’re talking with 25-year high school English teacher and author, Aimee Ross, @AimeeLRoss from Ohio.
Now, Aimee, you’ve been nominated for the National Teacher Hall of Fame (https://osse.dc.gov/service/national-teachers-hall-fame), and you are under consideration as we’re recording this.
But one thing that you’ve talked about is how often your students have inspired you. You have some pretty cool stories to tell us.
Why don’t you tell us the first story you’d like to share about a student inspiring you in some way.
Aimee: Several years ago — I think it was 2006 — a student gave me a book for Christmas. It was called How to Sell What You Write. She’d put a note in the book that said that she believed in me when I said I would write my own book someday and that this was to get me a good start.
A student gave me a gift
As I was finishing up writing the book that I’d just completed this past year, I remembered that she had given me that. So I dug it out of my closet in my classroom, and I reread her note.
I decided to write a letter back to her to let her know that I had in fact completed the task.
She’s one of the students that I name at the end of the book in my Acknowledgments for believing in me.
Even though truth be told, I don’t recall that I used that book for much of anything.
Aimee: I just liked the idea that someone believed in me enough to give it to me.
Someone believed in me enough
Vicki: You know, this is interesting because so often, we as teachers work so hard to believe in our students to help them know that we believe in them. But you know, when a student believes in us, it’s really remarkable, isn’t it?
Aimee: That’s what makes the job worth coming to every day. Just to have a student remind you that they — not necessarily expect great things from you — but they are not surprised if there are great things that come from you, worthy of remembering every single day. That’s why we get up and come to school.
Vicki: Yeah, “worthy of being remembered”… that’s awesome.
Worthy of being remembered
OK, you’ve got another story, too, to share with us, don’t you?
Aimee: Oh, I do. This one’s a little sadder than that one.
Several years ago, I was working on my book, actually, but at that time it was for my master’s thesis. I was working on the manuscript for it. I desperately needed a title for the manuscript, and I didn’t know what to do.
I love to involve my classes in anything that I’m working on, even personally, just giving them little tidbits of things that I’ve been doing.
So I came to class that day and said to the class, “I need some help. I need help coming up with a title for my writing. Here are the major themes that are in my book, and the main story line that goes through it.”
I asked my class for help with the title of my book
I wrote stuff up on the board, and I said, “I’m just looking for anything that you can give me that would fit the bill here, maybe even just a jumpstart for me.”
And as I was talking about having a broken heart, which was from a heart attack, and I got divorced, and then having a broken body from being in a bad car accident, and all of these things that had affected me in some way…
… I had a student raise her hand, and everybody was kind of working in groups, and she raised her hand and motioned me over to her desk. I want to tell you that this same student earlier in the school year had lost her mother to a heart attack — like right before the school year had started. And she was a senior, but she waved me over to her desk. I said, “Yeah! What are you thinking?”
And she said, “Have you ever heard of this Japanese art form? It’s called, ohhhh… “kint” something.”
And I said, “No. I never have.”
And she said, “You should go look it up.”
So I came back over to my desk, and I opened up Google, and I said to her, “Kaitlyn, what was it again?”
And she said, “It’s “kint” something. K-I-N-T and it’s art.”
So I put in “kint + art” and up comes a word called “kintsugi” — which is the art form of joining together something broken with a gold powder that turns into a metallic gold — and the creation of something more beautiful as a broken unit than it was prior to being broken.
And I just looked at her and said, “Oh my gosh. This is amazing. This is beautiful!”
And she just smiled at me and said, “I’ll bet you can do something with that.”
But the fact that she — first of all, taught me something that day that I didn’t know — but that she could come up with the parallels there, and made me feel so good about myself — in that in my brokenness I was becoming a better version of myself. I just appreciate that so much.
Vicki: Well, and Aimee, I love it. I have a book that I’ve been working on, actually now, for three years called War of Heart, and in there I actually talk about kintsugi. The fact that you would bring it up today… Just in my own life, because as a teacher, it’s so easy to feel like, “I’m broken in so many ways. I have so many flaws. I have things that don’t go right.” But that we could be put together in a more beautiful way because of that brokenness.
We can be put together in a more beautiful way because of our brokenness
Aimee: Right. I’m your sign to finish that book.
Vicki: (laughs) You might actually be.
Vicki: You know, I always tell my husband, “Don’t write a book unless you’re willing to live it.” And certainly, I’ve been living it since I started writing it.
Vicki: But it’s just so meaningful that you bring your students in, that you’re willing to share the pieces of your life. That’s something that… my relationship with my students transformed when I started bringing myself to class — my real self.
Aimee: Exactly. Yes. This is the thing that newer teachers don’t get. We’re taught in college. We’re taught that because of society and all of the bad apples that are out there, that there must a be a line between teachers and students, and you can’t cross that line. And yes, that’s true. There is a line. But the better that I got at opening up to just being me, goofy me — that can trip over nothing and fall down and laugh at herself and have them laugh at me.
Or seriously, I do have a Ricky Martin shrine in my classroom…
Aimee: … but it’s because I love Ricky, but it’s because they started bringing things in because they think it’s hysterical that I have a crush on a homosexual male.
And so any … when we come away from being a new teacher into realizing that we can open ourselves up and allow them to see who we are… I get more out of my teaching. Because it’s a respect. They know who I am as a person, I know who they are, and hey… we’re all here together. What can you guys give to me today, and what can I do for you, and while teaching standards and while getting the test scores and those things.
We can open ourselves up and allow them to see who we are
Vicki: We’re all kind of kintsugi, aren’t we?
Aimee: Yeah! Every single one of us. That’s definitely another thing that I hope kids can walk away from my experience of writing this book is that we all have a story. And if they don’t have a story yet, they’re going to someday. There will be something that will break us, and we can come back from that.
Vicki: We can fight back.
So Aimee, in the middle of all this, what does this mean that you’ve been nominated to the National Teacher Hall of Fame?
Aimee: If I’m being totally honest with you, it’s a little overwhelming to have a book coming out at the same time as the nomination is occurring. It’s a lot of attention on a job that –, and you know this — we don’t get a lot of accolades. But we would still do it even if we didn’t get the accolades.
Aimee: I appreciate it, and I love it. But you know, I know so many teachers that belong in the National Teacher Hall of Fame. So I guess — even though it might sound kind of corny — I would like to say, if I am inducted into the Hall of Fame, I’m doing it on behalf of — I could give you a list of teachers, teachers that I work with on a daily basis. My own father was a teacher for thirty years. It is important to me, in being a representative, I think.
Vicki: I think also, Aimee, that it’s important that you are being authentic and open, because sometimes when people have a “mountain top” experience, it’s real easy to become — I’m not going to say self-centered, but I guess that teachers are so eager for somebody to actually notice what we do? (laughs) Because it’s such a lonely job…
Vicki: …that it’s really easy to fall prey to ego, isn’t it? And we have to just really battle against that and remind within ourselves. We are here not to — I’m going to paraphrase something that my youth pastor at church, Garrett Grubbs, said — “not to wear a bib, but to wear an apron.” That’s why we do this profession. We’re here to serve. I think it’s great to see your humility.
We are here not to wear a bib, but to wear an apron
Aimee: Well, it’s funny that you say that, because a long time ago, 2004, I was nominated and I applied for the Disney Teacher Award, which is no longer. They don’t have it anymore. And I got it that year. I was one of 39 teachers to get it. And better things kept happening, and I did. My head grew too big. I thought, “Man, I’m a gift to education. I need to go out to teach other teachers.” And you know what? That’s kind of when life took a turn for me, within the next several years. Not only did I feel that I had reached the pinnacle of my career, but I shouldn’t be in the classroom anymore. I’m more important than this. And then life handed me a situation. The class exactly where I needed to be to heal again. And so it’s been a little difficult to have that nomination come.
I had asked a friend of mine that had also won Disney that year, too, to write a blurb for my book. She read the book and said, “I want to nominate you for Teacher Hall of Fame.”
I was a little nervous about that, and at the same time, I had my father saying to me, “But maybe you’ll never be nominated again. You should take advantage of this.”
So I’m so happy to hear you say that you hear the humility because it wasn’t there for a while. It really wasn’t’. But once I came back to the classroom and allowed those kids to — I mean, I guess it’s selfish, but my kids became my therapists. And I still feel like I was able to pull my job off, in teaching them. But wow, what the classroom has done for me has given me myself. And that’s what I want to take to the Teacher Hall of Fame, if it happens.
I’m happy that you hear the humility because it wasn’t there for a while
Vicki: So, remarkable teachers out there. I think that I appreciate Aimee’s transparency. She and I have a lot of parallels. There are times when people do recognize you. You have to be careful not to believe your own press. We become irrelevant when we become self-centered. Our profession is a selfless profession, not a selfish profession. And when we become selfish in eagerly seeking a spotlight, that is not really anybody’s to be held for a second. It’s real easy to lose focus on who we’re supposed to be.
So, Aimee, I appreciate your transparency. Good luck with everything. And I have got to get your book! (laughs)
Aimee: Good, good. Thank you so much!
Contact us about the show: https://www.coolcatteacher.com/contact/
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford [email protected]
Bio as submitted
Aimee Ross is a nationally award-winning educator who has been a high school English teacher for the past twenty-five years and an aspiring writer for as long as she can remember. She also has a passion for learning and teaching about the Holocaust which has led to fellowships and study tours, published study guides and lessons (online and print), and numerous presentations, both nationally and internationally.
Author of Permanent Marker.
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