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#DidntQuitTeaching: Martha, The Intervention Specialist


This is a transcript of the mini-podcast episode of A Different EduPodcast, #DidntQuitTeaching: Martha, The Intervention Specialist. You can hear the audio podcast from our podcast page https://adifferentedupodcast.podbean.com, Apple podcasts, or most major podcast distribution services.


Martha:

"The sign on the door was my name and under it said EMR class- educable mentally r*******."

Bill:

This is Martha. She started teaching special education at an elementary school in 1973.


Martha:

"I think I had 12 students. And ranging in grades one to five. I didn't have good diagnostic records for these children. Basically, I had their IQ scores there because that's what got them into the class."


Bill:

Particularly at this time, IQ scores were seen as a stable measure of a student's intelligence. Once a student received a certain IQ score, it was expected that it would remain stable throughout their life. That meant that once a student entered the special education class, they would stay there throughout their academic career. But an interesting thing started to happen in Martha's classroom.


Martha:

"Students tested out of my classroom and if you know anything about the EMR label it was based on IQ. So generally IQ shouldn't change. They shouldn't be testing out of my classroom, but they did. They did."


Bill:

In addition to calling into question the reliability of IQ testing, this showed the incredible teaching and learning that was happening in Martha's classroom. But it didn't start out that way.


Martha:

"I will be honest, it was very chaotic."


Bill:

Martha was in a class with twelve students in an age range corresponding to 2nd to 5th grade. While some students might have been able to work on similar objectives, Martha was essentially planning twelve individual lessons for five and half hours every day in all subject areas.


Martha:

"There was no record or paperwork saying okay, this is the reading level of this student. This is the reading level of this student. This is where this student is in math. I had nothing, absolutely nothing. Every night I would come home and I was planning day to day because I never knew for sure what was going to work, how the children would react to it, and plus I was trying to figure out where they were to even begin to teach them."


Bill:

This need for intense planning takes a toll on teachers and for Martha the added behavioral challenges multiplied the stress."


Martha:

The children, would I mean literally… run out of the room… if they didn't like what I was doing, they just ran out of the room. By Thanksgiving I was just done… I was not enjoying my time. I loved the kids but I just felt like I wasn't doing anything for them."

Bill:

By winter break, Martha's feelings about quitting teaching had reached an action point.


Martha:

"This is the point where I said I'm done. I'm not ever teaching again. I told my husband I said I'm not a quitter. I will finish the year. Somehow I will get through the year. But when this year is over I'll be looking for a different occupation. I'm not doing this ever again."


Bill:

Notice the frustration was so intense, Martha was not just looking for a new teaching assignment, but a whole new occupation. Even after devoting four years of college to a career in education, she was ready to give it all up just thinking about the possibility that it might never get better.


Martha:

"I was done. I just felt like I can't. I can't do this. I would not. I didn't feel that I could risk taking another job in any form of teaching because I just felt like I don't ever want to be in this place again. It was just so frustrating and I felt so inadequate and I felt bad for the kids. I just felt like I am not doing the job here."


Bill:

In the weeks leading up to winter break, Martha had started to implement a behavior modification system.


Martha:

"I started collecting popsicle sticks and these were plastic popsicle sticks. They came in all different colors back then. And I called my friends, everybody I knew, I said, save your popsicle sticks for me and I managed to collect quite a large number."


Bill:

These popsicle sticks became currency in Martha's classroom. It was a clear way for her to communicate to the students the types of behaviors the class would require.


Martha:

"What I would do sometimes is if there were one or two who were really acting out, rather than take away from them, I rewarded everyone else and commented on what they were doing. I didn't say anything about what the children who weren't doing what they were supposed to be doing."


Bill:

The students were able to exchange the popsicle sticks at her "store" for a tangible expression of the desired behavior- small trinkets she had bought and brought in to school.


Martha:

"Catching them being good. That's what I was doing."

Bill:

Momentum began to build. Martha was able to assess student levels and provide appropriate instruction due to the popsicle stick behavior modification system. Students were learning exactly what behavior was needed and were able to positively engage in the content Martha was providing. As Martha mentioned, the whole time she loved these kids deeply and as she demonstrated that through her teaching, the students felt loved and valued. This momentum building was slow and largely imperceptible for a long time. Martha expected to return to school in January with one foot out the door looking for a new career and life direction. Instead…


Martha:

"When we went back, I really found that I had missed those kids. They were like a family. We really had bonded and even the kids bonded with each other because I really tried to help them develop relationships with each other and to be kind and it was really a family."


Bill:

Martha had seen how her hard work and love for those kids had paid off.


Martha:

"It was like a different classroom and I had a better hold on how I could individualize and keep the other children busy while I was working with one."


Bill:

With an extrinsic reward system like Martha was using, educators might wonder if it can continue to be effective. Will increasingly large rewards be needed to maintain the desired behavior? If the extrinsic rewards are taken away, will that erase the students’ motivation for appropriate behavior? As the momentum continued to build in Martha's classroom, there was indeed a shift in the rewards that students were working for.


Martha:

"By the end of the year I loved what I was doing and I will say the next year I never used behavior modification with the popsicle sticks again. The next year… I wondered, … am I going to have some of these kids say, well, where's our popsicle sticks? But they didn't."


Bill:

The rewards that the students were now getting from great learning, caring relationships from their peers, and a teacher that loved them were worth far more than the small trinkets the students had been trading their popsicle sticks for.

Martha:

"They like knowing what's expected of them and they were really responding. I was finally starting to feel like I was making progress and they were learning. I mean, it was very rewarding. I loved it. I loved those kids. By the end of the year, I thought I'll never quit doing this."


Bill:

Martha Manchester didn't stop teaching. She continued to teach at the elementary school for the next five years. Because she didn't quit teaching, her experience taught the staff and community that her students had so much more potential than the label that they had been assigned. Later she became the founder, director, and lead teacher of Rainbow Nursery School, a play-based, discovery style pre-school.


Everywhere Martha went, she was a teacher. In her faith community, for the past fifty years she has taught children, youth, and adults, often from her own living room. She was constantly involved with the local schools, voluntarily taking on teaching roles and initiatives that would be typically reserved for paid faculty as well as filling in difficult to find long-term subbing positions outside of her original training. For many years she led pre-school literacy programs at the local library. Understanding that learning is more than academics, for years she ran a free after school program that included homework help and meals. In her current role as a member of the state school board of Ohio, she continues to work to provide every student all of the possible opportunities to reach their potential. She is also my mom.

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