November 17, 2015
This November, Inspired Teaching spoke with Mr. Peter Leesam, a retired special education teacher and alum of the 2005 Inspired Teaching Institute. The following is a condensed version of this conversation:
Inspired Teaching: Why did you want to be a teacher?
Mr. Leesam: Many of my friends and relatives told me that I had a way with teaching things, so that was one element I considered. The other motivating factor happened when my son was ten back in our old country – Trinidad and Tobago – and he wasn’t making progress at school. I thought that maybe he had special needs, so I asked a teacher I knew to test him, and the teacher said “no, he’s fine.” I asked my friend what was going on then, and he told me that my son was left handed and that he wasn’t getting the support he needed at school, so he was shutting down. Then, this teacher spent time with my son, working with him to get him up to grade level. Looking at what he did for my son really inspired me, so I decided to become a teacher.
How did you earn your certification?
I earned my certification through the DC Fellows program. I applied, not knowing how tough it would be to be a teacher or even to get into the program. I was blessed to be one of about 100 people who got the Fellowship, and I went to George Washington University and enrolled in a program to get my Master’s degree in education and human development. This program also included an extra three credits in special education teacher training. DCPS also ran a program, led by Ruth Mitchell and another gentlemen; they were special education teachers, and they gave us special guidance to prepare us for the classroom.
How were you connected to Inspired Teaching?
Center for Inspired Teaching advertised the teacher training programs they were running, including the Inspired Teaching Institute, and somewhere I also met Aleta, and we had a chat. So those were the first two connections I made. I was really impressed with what Aleta said and with their programs.
What do you remember most about your time at the Inspired Teaching Institute?
The Inspired Teaching model is a lot different from the traditional approach to teaching. Inspired Teaching makes you feel that you’re not restricted to a certain model. In every profession there’s an approach to training people for it, but some of these approaches are such that they box you in. The training I got from Inspired Teaching showed me that you have to think outside the box. You have to innovate and experiment. Even if you have training from your college or your alternative certification program, you can always grow. The Inspired Teaching training is so unique that whatever gaps there are in your training, they will help fill those. Then, they will help you add more skills and build your practice.
What did you find most fulfilling about teaching?
Results. As a special ed teacher, sometimes they’d send children to your class and complain that so-and-so has such and such behavior. I would think to myself, that doesn’t matter; I’ll build a relationship with this child. I think the way you relate to people – both children and adults – that’s the way they will relate to you. There was a student who came to my classroom who at first was very destructive. He destroyed the charts; he’d walk around the classroom and knock around chairs and desks. But after I taught him for a little while, he became one of my best students.
What do you think caused that turnaround for this student?
There’s that song lyric I like to think of – “what the world needs now is love.” When you show students and learners love, you show them that you appreciate them, and that you think they’re a person who matters. People respond to that.
Any advice you’d give to teachers today?
Teaching is not an easy job. But it is the most satisfying job you can have in your life. Because when you see children turn around from being non-achievers to achievers, that’s the greatest satisfaction you can have. I think God put all of us on this earth for a purpose, and if you can touch a life, then that is one of the most satisfying things you can do. Teaching offers you that opportunity.
What do you think was the most important skill you used in the classroom?
I would say thoughtful repetition. Not repetition just for the sake of repetition, but repetition folded into lessons that are fun and engaging. The Inspired Teaching Institute showed me as a teacher how to make learning fun for children. You have to find ways to combine the two.
Why is it important for students to be engaged in learning?
In my time in the classroom, what I noticed is that every child can connect in some way to the material. That’s what I mean about it being the teacher’s job to make it engaging and palatable. Children want to learn, and it’s your job to make that happen.