Original  URL: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/1207rodelweideman07.html

The secret of her success Catching kids being good
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 7, 2003
Pat Kossan

Editor's note: The Arizona Republic is profiling the 10 winners of the 2004 Rodel Teacher Initiative. The program gives $10,000 Savings Bonds to each winning teacher in schools in low-income areas. They will mentor six outstanding Arizona State University student teachers.

Phoenix teacher Vicki Weideman started this school year the same way she started the past few: seriously considering making it her last.

The sheer physical work of unpacking a couple of decades worth of supplies and re-creating her third-grade classroom at west Phoenix's Palm Lane Elementary is getting harder for Weideman. The 46-year-old mother of two grown sons and a 7-year-old daughter is in her 25th year of teaching.

Odds are good, though, that Weideman's school year will end the same way it always does: "I think, 'This was the best year. How am I going to top that next year?' "

Weideman is one of 10 teachers honored in the 2004 Rodel Teacher Initiative, which recognizes teachers whose students excel despite living in families plagued by poverty. Rodel officials selected teachers from schools in low-income areas whose classes scored well on achievement tests for three consecutive years. They also asked principals to point out teachers they would like to "clone."

The winning teachers will be paired with Arizona State University student teachers. The objective is to create a pool of teachers who know the secrets to successfully teaching kids who have the hardest time learning.

Many years ago, a school psychologist shared with Weideman what has become her best secret to keep kids learning: Catch them being good. Each day, Weideman is on alert, armed with praise and stickers for her 26 third-graders: one who doesn't speak English, three who are struggling with English, and half who are not working at grade level. The lagging half is made up mostly of kids who have drifted from school to school. Some will catch up, Weideman said; others never will.

Weideman has to stop and think about why kids are successful in her classroom. After all these years, the small steps it takes for kids to make giant leaps come to her as natural as breathing, as easy as a song to help kids memorize their multiplication tables. Each year she starts with the small things that make a classroom run smoothly:

A system for handing out and collecting papers, for lining up for lunch, for who can use the pencil sharpener and when.

Weekly selection of the "bionic kids," who earn the title through behavior, homework and effort.

Pairing the kindest students with good verbal skills with kids struggling with English.

Palm Lane's neighborhood is filled with single parents, many who don't speak English well and are working several jobs. They're unlikely to have the time or money to spend on books or reading or homework. It's not unusual that some are in jail.

Weideman has thought about moving to a suburban school, where she notices that teachers have a handful of parent volunteers in the classroom nearly every day.

"I'm lucky to have one helping," Weideman said. "Lately, it's been none."

But she has noticed something about her Palm Lane kids that Weideman finds missing in classrooms in other schools: "You'd be amazed at how nice these kids are to each other."

Reach the reporter at pat.kossan@arizonarepublic.com.