Blog post by PTAC Member Colleen Reiner
A few years ago, the education department at Elizabeth College wanted to present me with a Distinguished Alumni award. My first reaction was to ask them if they had the right person.
I was surprised by the honor at first. My surprise soon turned to excitement as I realized the incredible opportunity this would afford me to talk about a group of students that are often forgotten in our school systems.
Anyone who has children or has worked with children knows that children learn and develop at different speeds.
When I think of my own children, my eldest daughter would be considered a daffodil or a crocus. She was an early bloomer. Betsy knew in 8th grade that she wanted to be a doctor. When her classmates were reading romance novels and adventure books she was reading books written by medical school interns and residents. She was researching colleges with the best acceptance rates to medical school while others were still thinking of what they wanted to do after high school. Betsy has followed her dream and is now in medical school.
My younger daughter is a rose or delphinium. Emily is a summer bloomer. She spent her high school years looking at her strengths and interests. After looking at six or seven different occupational paths she has finally found her passion and is focused on a career in chemistry. She enjoyed high school and is working hard at university taking classes and doing research.
I am a late bloomer. Like a chrysanthemum, I let all of the other spring and summer flowers bloom before me. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do my senior year in high school. There was no particular college that I had in mind. It was made clear to me by others that I was expected to attend college, though. After 4 years of college and a degree, I still had no idea what my calling was in life.
I attended college for 4 years and still didn’t feel ready to start a career.
I was fortunate enough to find teaching more than a year after getting my college degree. That year allowed me to mature and to realize that being a teacher was what I was meant to do.
In Robert Kraus’s book “Leo the Late Bloomer,” the protagonist is a tiger who isn’t keeping up with his classmates in school. His father is very concerned that his struggles will keep him from succeeding in life, but his mother keeps stressing that Leo will “grow in his own good time.” Of course, in the story Leo ends up proving his mother correct.
Like Leo and I, many of our students just need some time to bloom. With the right encouragement and nurturing, they will be fine. Our system expects all of our children to learn at the same rate, but as teachers we know that each individual learns and grows at their own pace. No child should be discouraged or penalized because they develop faster or slower than their peers.
A family friend once told me that his father was fond of giving the following advice. “Bloom where you are planted.”
I was planted at Elizabethtown College, where the motto was “Educate to Serve.” I clearly remember convocation when I first arrived. I don’t remember who I was sitting next to or how long the ceremony was that night. The only thing I remember is thinking how important it was to serve others.
During my time at Elizabethtown I germinated and grew strong roots. I joined clubs and groups, worked at the snack bar, attended my classes, and was exposed to a wide variety of different people.
It was a blessing to have wonderful friends and professors during that time. When I made mistakes, they believed in me, forgave me, and helped me grow. Those mistakes and lessons I learned from them made me who I am today.
Those lessons helped me bloom when it was my time.
When I have a student who is struggling in my classes, I always ask myself, “Could this be a late bloomer?”
I want to make sure that I am giving the encouragement, support, and assistance to each of my students that was given to me during the times in my life that I needed it.
Here are 5 ways that you can ensure all the flowers in your classroom, including the late bloomers, get what they need:
1. It only takes one person to make a change. We often talk about change and how it should happen. But we wait around hoping for someone to lead us in that change. Don’t wait for that person. BE that person.
2. Everyone makes mistakes. I certainly made lots of them, and I still make them at times. All of us do. Take responsibility, ask for forgiveness, learn from the mistake, and try not to repeat it. Model for students what learning from mistakes looks like. Hiding this part of yourself from them robs them of an opportunity to learn from you.
3. Don’t give up on kids. At times change takes place right away. Other times, change may take a lot longer. Be patient with your students.
4. Give change a chance. Allow students to have agency in your classroom. The more flexible and open-minded you are, the more students have an opportunity to grow and thrive.
5. Model innovation and problem-solving for students. If they see that you don’t have all the answers, and they learn from you how to go about finding solutions to the problems in their world, they will have more opportunity to develop into their best selves.
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee