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Enjoy this blog from the Mississippi Teacher of the Year
Whitney Drewrey at the National Teacher of the Year Ceremony

Teaching Compassion and Culture in the Classroom

May 03, 2019 2019-05-03

I have always been passionate about reaching the student that no one else feels they can reach or the student that is typically considered the underdog. I began to lose interest in school when I was in 7th grade. I could study and do the work if I put my mind to it, but I lost motivation quickly. I did not get that motivation back until I was a junior in college. I finally realized that I needed to get my life together. I feel like there are so many students out there like me who are lost and looking for direction. I want to be the teacher I needed at that point in my life. I wasn’t stupid, but I needed guidance to reach my full potential. Having a relationship with your students and knowing them well enough to recognize and respond to their needs is so important.

With all this in mind, I made it my mission to be an educator who could support “difficult” students. I quickly became a mentor for many struggling students. I constantly searched to see what set my students’ souls on fire. I used my own experiences to relate with some of them. I wanted to reach them early and push them to succeed. I wanted these young learners to become confident and discover a passion for education.

I began my career as an educator teaching 6th grade science for 12 years. Along the way, I was able to teach some math and social studies courses. When I taught in general education, I was assigned to take inclusion students within my classroom. Because of the instant connection I made with them, I was given the task of having students with severe cognitive disabilities in class. It was then that I found my true calling.

I fell in love with teaching my students and instantly felt like I had so much to offer them. They have been dealt a challenging set of cards in life, but they have an intense desire to discover the world around them. For me, this is priceless. I quickly realized my desire to serve this population through education, which is why I soon returned to school to obtain my master’s in special education. However, I still felt compelled to stay with the students I fought for—those students like me who lacked motivation and needed an extra push to find their purpose. I didn’t know then that I would be able to serve both populations years later.

I have found a compromise that enables me to influence the students I originally set out to help with the assistance of my students with special needs. I can reach both groups, teaching compassion and creating a culture within my school of love and acceptance. I have watched students that underachieve become buddies with my students and begin to thrive. Once they see that they can care about someone else, they can be taught to love themselves and see the worth that they have. That is when they know they have a purpose.

In my current teaching setting, I have seen general education students, parents, and teachers go from staring at my students to high fiving them, initiating conversations, playing with them at recess and caring for them. I have had parents tear up and tell me that their child has never had other students speak to or say “bye” to him and hug him when he left school before. I have seen students, like the ones I originally set out to reach, ask to push my boys in a wheelchair, come to the classroom to help, or have lunch with them. This may be the one thing that motivates them to come to school. Maybe this is what I needed when I was in 7th grade.

Building relationships is the most important aspect of teaching for me. Creating an atmosphere where students feel like they can learn will entice them to learn. The academics will come as long as they are motivated. Yes, they will all learn at different speeds and on different levels, but they will learn.

Whitney Drewrey is the 2019 Mississippi Teacher of the Year. She teaches special education at Lafayette Upper Elementary School. She believes that all children are capable of learning and has made this sentiment her teaching philosophy. Drewrey earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Mississippi and obtained her teaching license through Mississippi Valley State University. You can follow Whitney on Twitter @WhitneyDrewrey.

Social-Emotional Learning Academic Achievement At Risk ELL/ESL

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