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Every Student a Challenge, Each One Different

September 17, 2000|MARTI BARRETT

Editor's note: Marti Barrett, a veteran bilingual teacher and mentor, last week was named Ventura County Teacher of the Year. This essay describes her philosophy of teaching. After 17 years, Barrett recently left the classroom to become a consulting teacher for the Oxnard Elementary School District's Peer Assistance and Review program. She lives in Ventura with her husband and three children.


We must see that every child has equal opportunity, not to become equal, but to become different--to realize the unique potential he or she possesses.

--John Fischer


In a time and country in which we pride ourselves in providing equal opportunity to all, this quote reminds me that we are indeed not all equal. As a parent, I have learned that all three of my children have very different ways of interacting with the world--and with me. Each is blessed with different talents and struggles with different challenges. To treat them equally would be foolish.


Just as each of my own children challenges me to find the best way to bring out his or her potential, so each of my students poses a similar challenge. Each child I have the privilege to teach is a unique individual gifted with many talents. The brain research of the past few decades has brought to light the fact that children learn in various ways. So, just as parenting all children equally would be foolish, so would teaching them all in the same method.

I have been fortunate to be an educator at a time when we are supported by so much research in the areas of brain function and learning. Because of this, I have learned strategies for bringing out each child's giftedness.

In my early years as a teacher, I was frustrated and confused when my students were not able to grasp a concept or lesson. I perceived their inability to understand as a lack of interest or motivation. Rather than be introspective as to how I might improve the situation, I might place the blame on the students, their previous teachers or even their home life.

Experience and training have changed that.

I now truly believe that all children can learn. There are no excuses, no reasons to quit. Instead of placing blame I seek within for inspiration on how best to reach a child. I seek ways to help the children to overcome the obstacles placed before them. I let them know that I have high expectations of them and have every faith that they will fulfill those expectations.


My teaching day is one filled with celebrations! If children are allowed to succeed there is always reason to celebrate.

This is not to say that I come away from each teaching day feeling successful. Undoubtedly, there are those children who don't show signs of great growth.

Yet I'm reminded of my father's garden wisdom.

From childhood I remember my father taking particular joy in the transplanting of an avocado tree he had nursed from a seed. Calling me over to share his excitement, he said, "Look, mi hijita, someday this little tree will give us wonderful avocados."


"When, Papi, next summer?" I asked hopefully.

"Oh, no," he responded. "This tree probably won't give fruit for another seven years."

My face must have shown confusion and disillusionment.

"Seven years! Why do you even bother?" I asked, daunted by my child's perspective on time.

"Oh, mi hijita," he sighed. "Someday you will understand that it is a foolish man indeed who doesn't plant a tree because he won't be the one to taste its fruit."

At the time I must have just rolled my eyes and walked away. But now, as an older and wiser person, I treasure those wise words and use them to bring me hope. I plant many seeds in the hearts and minds of my students and trust that someday someone will enjoy good fruit.

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