Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nicknames of Respect

Dear Students,

How many of you have nicknames that friends, family, or even coaches and teachers use when addressing you? Chances are you like your nicknames as they become equally significant to your full name. The most recent nickname I've acquired is "new guy", as I am barely two weeks into my team fitness boot camp three days a week at 6 AM. Everyone cheers me on... "You got it New Guy! Come on New Guy!"... as I do my best to catch up and not throw up in the hours before school starts. The team congratulates me with a "Way to go Rookie!" as I make it through each day, perhaps hinting that my next level nickname is "Rookie"--undoubtedly better than "new guy". Nevertheless, my elementary nickname makes me feel welcome, thus encouraging me to show up for at least another morning.

As a teacher, I've had many students come up with various nicknames for me over the years. And I love my nicknames because the essence of a nickname itself is a title of endearing respect, if not friendship and love. Two of my former students in Costa Rica, Marianna Calvo (Class of 2010) and Julie Javelle (Class of 2010), always referred to me without using the trivial prefix "Mr." I was known, as I still am today, simply as Berey. To this day, these girls address me with far more love and respect than any student I've ever had who inserted the prefix "Mr." Then there were a few students on my Costa Rica varsity girls soccer team who called me "Ber Ber" (pronounced Bear Bear, like the animal), most notably Jessi Curtis (Class of 2010) and Anna Pieri  (Class of 2011). These girls, who were both notorious for pushing my buttons and invading my personal space, live every moment smiling so they could never put anyone in a bad mood. One current student, Eric Mance (Class of 2013), shows his respect by affectionately addressing me as "Berey the Bear". I know when he is irritated or upset when he actually addresses me as Mr. Berey.

Perhaps my most unique nickname created by a student is "Berey Kitten on Wheels". Yes, I've actually had students address me in the middle of 8th grade English class as "Berey Kitten on Wheels".  One time I even responded by wheeling across the linoleum floor on my chair "meowing". The one and only Margo Wilson (Class of 2013) deserves all the credit for applying her vivacious, jubilant personality to my ever-growing list of nicknames. Finally, there are some students like Elise Lang (Class of 2011), who celebrated her own graduation by addressing me as "Sam!"--like the best friend she always wanted. The reality is that there is so much mutual respect on the student-teacher level, that upon graduation Elise was genuinely excited to appropriately address me as a friend.

All of these student-created nicknames represent the one ingredient that is absolutely essential for effective teaching and learning: respect. Successful learning is a two-way street, for both the student and the teacher, where mutual respect has the right-of-way in the direction of education. If we're lucky, as I have been so far, we pick up some friendships (and nicknames) along the way.

Thank you to all my students for creating fun, original nicknames that represent the important ideals I frequently speak about. I will never forget all my amazing students who continuously teach me the value of respect.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Discovering Coolpix

Dear Students,

Did you know that I've owned as many cameras in my lifetime as the number of times the Washington Redskins have made the playoffs in my brief 5-year teaching career? For all of you not counting, that would be one. My 2008 maroon Nikon "Coolpix" was utilized as many times as my Washington Redskins won a playoff game over the last 5 years. Not surprisingly, that is also one. I'll be honest, cameras and the whole taking pictures bit--never really been my thing. I like to live in the moment and see things through my own eyes, not through the lens of some rapid-fire LCD HD camera. No matter how "cool" the "pix" are.

But lately I've been reflecting about how awesome photography can be. After all, it's our only true effort to stop and capture a moment in time. I've had the pleasure of encountering many different students who are phenomenal with a camera, and the art that is photography. I've always envied the artistic skills of students like Nina Monroy (Class of 2011) and Lanie Patterson (Class of 2011), who both write as well as they dream up beautiful images. I'm baffled by the natural talents of students like Giuli Cardoso (Class of 2012) and Sydney Sullivan (Class of 2009). They make photography look so easy, yet so awesome. Of course, there are numerous students like Jerome Ryan (Class of 2012) and Mikayla Posk (Class of 2012) who have yet to reach their potential in photography (or art in general), but their potential alone inspires me to write this post. Finally, I cannot forget my own sister, Liz Berey, who has an uncanny knack for taking amazing pictures and then uses them to create the kind of coffee table photo books that we can only find in Barnes and Noble.

Just as I look forward to seeing the Washington Redskins make the playoffs this year, I look forward to exploring photography this school year. And perhaps I'll share my work in progress on this blog. In the meantime, since my Nikon "Coolpix" is long gone, you will have to suffer through the photographic limitations of my iPhone 3GS.

Thank you to all my students (and friends and family) who have showed me that photography is so much more than living through the lens of a camera.

Here are some pictures from my always-changing, non-traditional classroom:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Why "Dear Students, Thank You"

While the primary purpose of this blog is to thank my students (current and former) by highlighting all the amazing things happening inside and outside of my class, I feel compelled to write my first post about my administration. Teaching in a small, private school in Boca Raton, Florida, makes me realize that far too many people go though their day without ever thanking the very people that influence them the most. Fortunately, my administration--especially one particular administrator (see blog: Teach on the Edge by Tiffany Della Vedova), helps me to recognize the importance of those two simple words. I've been a teacher just long enough to know that without a strong, supportive administration, teachers will struggle to grow professionally (among other struggles). Consequently, students will be the ones who suffer in the long run. At least my students won't suffer so long as my administration allows my colorful, comfortable living room of a classroom. As I have learned to thank my students on a daily basis for the inspiring moments they provide me, I will be sure not to forget my inspiration for creating this blog. So... Dear Administration, Thank You.