Mr. Finn was ready for the first day of school this year. He organized his classroom, neatly lining the classroom shelves with the interactive learning tools that are intended to make learning easy and fun; algebra tiles, math mystery riddles and pizza fraction fun.
If only teaching was that easy.
“Our students often see school as a struggle and so they picture themselves as not being successful," shared Mr. Finn.
Students who attend Gerber School are a part of Cunningham's Residential Treatment Program. Because of their developmental delays caused by abuse or neglect, or constant movement between foster care or other placements, or missed days of school because of hospitalization for mental health issues, many of these young people have fallen behind in their academics. Our teachers must find creative ways to keep them motivated.
Mr. Finn wants to change the way students see themselves.
He begins class time with a “take 60…so we can collect ourselves.” The students sit quietly and reflect on their day, setting the mood for the learning time ahead. Mr. Finn hopes this changes his students’ mindsets and knows the keys to academic success do not come just in the form of an interactive math game, but in the way he teaches - with a positive attitude.
"I find the easiest way to motivate kids is through humor and to have a smile that is contagious," he said. "If I'm in a good mood and am excited to be in the classroom, students will pick up on that and it might change the way they see the classroom."
He believes individual attention also contributes to successful learning. When AJ was learning to add and subtract positive and negative integers, Mr. Finn devoted one-on-one attention demonstrating how algebra tiles would help AJ grasp the concept.
“When I put those tiles in front of him, I could see how he suddenly understood what I was teaching him," he said.
And learning leads to hope.
"When my students start feeling success, they start to see a future for themselves, whether it be at a community college or at a job after graduating high school," he explained.
Teaching at Gerber has also allowed Mr. Finn to learn a few things too. He feels Gerber School is a very supportive environment for teaching. "Whether it's with an administrator or coworker, there is always time to talk to someone and people always hear you out," he said.
Because Mr. Finn enjoys working at Gerber, his enthusiasm simply spills over into his classroom. And he always tries to build the best relationships possible with his students and has learned that our youth really aren't that different than the students who attend public school.
"My students are all good kids who want to do well," he said. "They want people to like them; they want friends and relationships, and most of all, they want to succeed."
And when our students succeed, we all smile.