What did Hernando County teachers learn from their students this year?

We asked and they answered, with stories about perseverance, sharing and an old oak tree.
Published June 3
Updated June 3

As the 2018-2019 school year wraps up, Hernando County students have had ample opportunity — in tests, final projects and capstones — to put to use what they learned this year. But knowledge goes both ways, and we wondered: What did teachers learn from their students this year? We asked, and they answered. Below are a few of their responses, edited for length and clarity.

Allison Bates, Carissa Edwards and Jen Calderon coach the Winding Waters K-8 cheerleading squad, which won two national titles this season.

"We have seen firsthand how important hard work and perseverance are. They were so devoted to achieving their goal — we spent weekends/mornings before school practicing and fundraising on weekends we weren't practicing.

"There is a lesson to be learned here by anyone: that when you set a goal and give 110 percent, you can achieve it."

Barb Weiss is a reading resource teacher and the music director at Westside Elementary School. This spring, she and her students staged a production of "Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka KIDS," an adaptation of Dahl's kid-literature classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

"Anyone and everyone was encouraged to try out. You were guaranteed a spot in our show. Much to my surprise, we had almost 60 brave little souls come out to be a part of our production. By February, we were in full rehearsal mode. We practiced twice a week for two hours each day.

"Some of the students who participated were the students who struggled academically, the students who had some discipline issues and even a student facing homelessness.

"Day after day, week after week, they never stopped trying. I even had several students who were behind in their work and were told that school work comes first. If they wanted to continue in the production, they needed to make up all of their missing and incomplete assignments. They did it, all of it. They managed to get it done just so they can be part of the play.

"These amazing little ones have taught me that family isn't always what we have traditionally thought it to be. We became a family. We raised each other up. Struggling readers memorized all of their lines perfectly. They showed up ready to give their all. It didn't matter what was happening outside our room. We were working together, building each other up and celebrating our accomplishments.

"We all learned that not everyone is good at everything, but everyone is good at something. For these kids and me, it was our play. Their troubles were gone when we were united.

"Being a small part of something big made us all realize that together we can be strong and show the world our confidence."

Philip Scire teaches eighth-grade language arts at Explorer K-8.

"One thing I have been reminded of this year is that, too often, teaching is seen as an us-versus-them ordeal, when in reality, we work on the same side of the page. It takes a lot of reflection to realize that these kids very literally are us. As an adult, it is easy to forget where we came from, what we were like at their age, how we treated different adults in our own lives.

"It is unfortunate that some of the students' lives inevitably inhibit their desires to learn or grow; it is a sad thing to know that some of my students eat only what they're served at school due to their home lives and circumstances that are entirely out of their hands. As a teacher who is truly proud of his students for their tenacity and ability to show up and take on each day, the lesson I am taking away from this year is that despite being the teacher in the room and despite the perceived hierarchy of teacher-to-student, it is much more valuable as humans to be united on the forefront of life, and to work together to prepare the future generations for all that their lives can be and all the world has in store for those who stand tall against whatever comes their way."

Cindy Allen is a sixth-grade language arts teacher at West Hernando Middle School.

"We read about a character in a book who ran away from home. My students immediately understood why he ran away. His parents did not get along; in fact, they didn’t even speak to each other. One day it became too much for the character.

"That sparked a conversation about running away. One student confided in me that he had often felt like running away. He asked if I ever ran away as a kid, which I thought was a pretty funny question.

"I grew up in a small New England town in a big family. Our house was noisy and chaotic. I don’t think I ever seriously considered running away, but I did spend a lot of time outdoors. We had a huge oak tree in our yard that had to be 80 feet high, maybe more. I would climb right to the top where I could see for miles. It was peaceful and exhilarating.

"I was a good climber, but that didn’t mean I was allowed to climb it. My dad had even tried to prevent me from doing it by cutting off all of the bottom branches, but I outwitted him. I would push his old painting ladder against the trunk, hoist myself to the first branch and up I would go.

"In response to my student, I said, “No, I never ran away, but I did climb up into a big oak tree where no one could find me.” All of the students were fascinated by this answer, especially the fact that I went up there after my father told me not to and cut off the branches.

"I told them about the time I was climbing down and I put my weight on one of the old branches and it snapped right in half. Fortunately, I was still holding onto the branch above me, and I managed to avoid catastrophe. When I got to the bottom, I vowed not to climb the tree again, but once the adrenaline and fear wore off, I was up again.

"On my way home from work later that day, I wondered about that tree. I was not a defiant kid; I just could not stay out of that tree. In spite of the danger, it was my refuge and salvation. I laughed to myself about it. I loved that tree.

"I told my students that they should always listen their parents, but it’s good to have someplace to go where they can be alone and quiet. For most of us, that means playing on our phones and computers. It just made me realize how lucky I was to have that old oak tree."

Allison Prose is a first-grade teacher and school gardener at Pine Grove Elementary School.

"This year was especially magical as we grew sunflowers, collard greens, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, corn, beans, etc. As we harvested our crops this year, I learned how big my little students' hearts are. Of course, my young learners were full of curiosity as they explored the plants and soil, and they enjoyed trying new foods that we harvested and cooked in class.

"However, their favorite thing to do was share. My kindhearted first-graders absolutely loved bagging up produce to deliver around our campus. I witnessed the delight in their sweet little faces as they spread joy by sharing."

Contact Jack Evans at jevans@tampabay.com. Follow @JackHEvans.

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