Great Georgia teacher Becky Cross: A reflection of great commitment and great influences

University of Georgia professor Peter Smagorinsky adds another installment to his ongoing series on Great Georgia Teachers.

In this piece, Smagorinsky highlights Rabun County teacher Becky Cross.

By Peter Smagorinsky

The image of the 21st century classroom tends to be pretty bleak. Creativity has been sacrificed on the altar of accountability. Kids grimly prepare for test after test, and when each is over, they prepare for the next one. Corporate textbook materials plan the instruction, script their classroom interactions, provide their assessments, and drive innovative teachers into another line of work.

Rabun County teacher Becky Cross:

Rabun County teacher Becky Cross: “You can’t be a good teacher unless you’ve asked for help, shared ideas, observed in great teachers’ classrooms.”

If Charles Dickens were around, he’d portray schools as sooty factories that choke the life out of learning.

I’m always relieved and inspired when I hear of teachers who, in spite of the current effort to standardize teaching and learning by means of centrally planned policies and designs, still find joy in their work.

Welcome to the laughter and enthusiasm available in the first-grade classroom of Rabun County Primary School’s Becky Cross, a two-time winner of her county’s Teacher of the Year Award, National Board Certified Teacher, 30-year veteran, and great Georgia teacher.

When my son was in tae kwon do, he was urged by his master to develop an “indomitable spirit” that would carry him through duress and obstacles. Teaching ardently through three decades of declining resources and public support surely qualifies Mrs. Cross as having such a positive disposition.

The kids who’ve come through her classroom learned from Mrs. Cross not only Three R’s but a frame of mind to embrace them as central tools with which to navigate life with passion and engagement.

Laughter. That’s not a word I think about when I think of teaching in today’s classrooms. But it’s perhaps the defining idea behind Becky Cross’s approach to helping kids learn. As she has said, “being silly” is fundamental to learning, which “is so much more fun when you bring the humor out in the children. That really grabs their attention and they tend to listen more.” I can’t think of too many 6-year-olds who’d disagree.

Being silly doesn’t mean being stupid. Rather, in Mrs. Cross’s world, silliness means singing and dancing to start the day as a way to ramp up kids’ enthusiasm and engagement with the curriculum. If life is a stage, then she directs the action so that the play is the thing; and as Shakespeare intended when he wrote this line for Hamlet, the play is both performance and reality.

Silliness does not necessarily detract from serious work, but in contrast can make serious work more meaningful and important. It’s central to the fundamental theme of Becky’s work as an educator: the development of relationships that engender the trust that is central to teachers’ ability to cultivate students’ assets.

Films often depict teachers like Becky Cross as singular characters working outside the system. And to her colleague Vickie Ellenburg, she “is a natural-born teacher. She’s gifted and she takes it very seriously. It’s not just a job to her.”

Like most great teachers, however, Becky is also a product of many influences. The Rome, Ga., native has an undergraduate degree in early childhood education from LaGrange College, a master’s from Piedmont College, and an educational specialist degree Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee.

Becky wrote in her personal statement for her second Teacher of the Year nomination, “You can’t be a good teacher unless you’ve asked for help, shared ideas, observed in great teachers’ classrooms. I am the teacher I am today because of all those who have shared philosophies, materials, teaching techniques and encouragement throughout my career.”

In turn, she has helped mentor other teachers: “I am pleased my friends and colleagues feel comfortable seeking advice, sharing stories, and collaborating on a variety of topics such as instructional planning, teaching techniques, and even recipes for the Cake Walk at our annual Fall Festival, or a March of Dimes luncheon to be held the next day in the school cafeteria. These diverse ways in which I have been able to influence other teachers and the ways they have influenced me is the real reward in a long career in education. Teaching can be a very stressful occupation, but forming strong relationships can create an environment that is enjoyable and comforting in times of professional or personal hardship.”

These leadership skills recently prompted her district administration to offer her a job as the assistant principal in a newly consolidated district elementary school. Becky considered the offer, yet “After much deliberation of trying to determine where I could best use my strengths to help students, I came to the conclusion that being in the classroom, with students, was where I wanted to stay.”

Others laboring under the same environmental influences might have become embittered by the current educational climate. However, Becky has, according to her principal, Lisa Patterson, “a sense of calling to the classroom, and no child leaves Mrs. Cross’ class without knowing that she cares for them and will fight endlessly for their rights.”

That profound dedication to the well-being of children undoubtedly has enabled Becky to persevere with an indomitable spirit through the frustrations of the last decade or so, keeping her attention focused on the only thing that really matters: the kids entrusted to her care.

According to Becky, “I realized I wanted to help students who didn’t learn like everyone else learned,” an indication of the importance she places of tending to the growth of other people’s children. Although she runs the risk of being evaluated as deficient because she takes on students who present challenges to teachers, her firm commitment to the diverse learners of Rabun County allows her to maintain her focus and tune out the distractions.

Rabun County is poor by Georgia standards, with a 21.5 percent of the population living below the poverty line. How does a skillful teacher, beyond all that song and dance, teach skills that will help students succeed in life, especially when they start out with few advantages?

As a first-grade teacher responsible for all academic disciplines, Becky Cross emphasizes the synthesis of concepts through thematic inquiry. “Everything I teach is integrated,” she says. “If I’m teaching a story in the language arts book, it will carry over. Our story this week is ‘Animal Groups.’ That’s a science topic. When we get to math, we’ll do some graphing and we’ll use the animal groups in that.”

She couples this curricular synthesis with what many call an implicit character curriculum that promotes her students’ moral compass. She says, “We need to make sure they have a strong foundation. We teach a lot of responsibility. As they grow up in life, they have to be responsible to be able to get jobs and be on time. At a young age, we want to make sure they have their agendas and they do their homework and they’re successful at it.”

Her remarks echo Martin Luther King’s view of a quality education: “We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”

As some of my friends might say, Becky Cross is a great Georgia teacher because she knows how to keep it real. The curriculum needs to have meaning, the class needs to have spirited energy, the skills need to contribute to the formation of a healthy character, the instruction needs to have practical implications.

Kids in Rabun County who start out under her tutelage get all this, and laughter too. That’s a combination that I think we all want for our kids.

 

Reader Comments 0

30 comments
class80olddog
class80olddog

Here is a statistic - 12% of families in Rabun County are single-parent, 22% in DeKalb  are single-parent

Intteach
Intteach

@class80olddog 

Your equation single parent = poor interest in education for the kids is outdated. There are plenty of hard-working single moms and dads that are single for one reason or another and make sure that they hold their kids accountable for school work. In fact, I am the product of one of those single-home families and it was never a question to my mom whether I would go to college even when my father died - it was an expectation. Single-parent family is not necessarily the stereotype that you have in your head.

Starik
Starik

We should always remember that there are terrific high quality teachers out there. We need to devise a way to reward the good ones and get rid of the bad ones. How do we arrive at a point where teachers who excel are rewarded financially? 

Astropig
Astropig

@Starik


I believe you're describing Merit Pay. It works,but the vast,overwhelming majority of teachers wouldn't get it (it's for rewarding the best,not the middle of the bell curve),so naturally,the NEA and other educrat lobbies hate it.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Starik


Teachers who "excel" do not tend to do so on their own.  Did you not read what Ms, Cross had to say?  "You can’t be a good teacher unless you’ve asked for help, shared ideas, observed in great teachers’ classrooms. I am the teacher I am today because of all those who have shared philosophies, materials, teaching techniques and encouragement throughout my career.”


 Good teachers work with other teachers, sharing ideas, techniques and materials.  A good teacher with support can be a "great" teacher, but it is hard to be a great teacher when isolated. Thus the idea of rewarding "great" teachers can be problematic since many teachers work as teams to do what is best for students.  

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

Since few are posting anything positive about this essay or this teacher, I will say that I greatly appreciate the way in which Dr. Smagorinsky praises the "workers in the trenches"--teachers who simply throw all they have into teaching their students, whether in small rural schools or in inner-city schools, and whose students love them in return. And I always applaud those he chooses to feature, as here with Ms. Becky Cross.

Doom Classical liberal
Doom Classical liberal

"Corporate" textbook materials......


Aaaand then I stopped reading. Just another prog educator taking whatever shot he can at corporate America. The guy coulda just written a nice article without trying to take subtle little political shots. But I guess that was just too much to ask for from yet another leftist professor with an axe to grind.  

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Dynasty 

Ah, it's the recently renamed "ThulsaDoom," fresh from being banned on Jay Bookman's blog, and a bullying, name-calling, ultra-conservative poster who never writes on the topics but uses them all as pretexts to attack "progs" and, usually, Obama.

BCW1
BCW1

She seems to be of the generation that takes the old with the new and keeps the main thing the main thing! Because education doesn't look anything like it did 20 years ago and that is not all good either.

EdUktr
EdUktr

We see that Smagorinsky is back to peddling old teachers' union myths in hopes of avoiding real education reform.

Or creative new systems where excellent teachers are truly free to innovate.

Lynn43
Lynn43

We are still missing the negative remarks from Mr. Ed, Mr. Whine, and Mr. 1234.  Did I miss anyone? 

popacorn
popacorn

Good way to drum up business for Blabberinsky's expensive playpen of graduate courses, where everyone is a straight-A genius. 

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Lynn43 @popacorn 

Judging from past blog-posts, popacorn despises all Education schools, Education professors, and graduates from Education programs as inferior intellectual products who are mostly female. Dr. Smagorinsky is, of course, not a female, but can be attacked because he teaches them. Popacorn posts quite regularly on this Education blog to tell us all how worthless teachers are...a captive audience to browbeat, you might say.

Astropig
Astropig

@OriginalProf @Lynn43 @popacorn


Pops makes great points that are usually funny, to the point and wry. I enjoy reading his/her opinions and hope he/she keeps providing them. We need a diversity of opinion here and Popacorn helps provide that.

popacorn
popacorn

You have to be smart enough to read between the lines. Playpen means students sit around and BS the entire period. Expensive means that students are charged exorbitant fees for a degree that not only means nothing in terms of teaching ability, but actually makes these teachers less employable in the long run. And I dare the good Doctor to publish the percentage of As given in his class the last 10 years. Virtually every student gets one. Of course he toots the teachers. They have enabled him to live comfortably and send his kids to very expensive private schools. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

Astropig
Astropig

Ms. Cross is an inspiration for her humble,dedicated service. Too bad you just used her as a prop to go on a rant about accountability. Shameful.

redweather
redweather

@Astropig  You need to look up the definition of the word "rant" as well as the word "shameful."

Astropig
Astropig

@redweather @Astropig

Very good advice. I did just that.


Rant:



verb (used without object)1.to speak or declaim extravagantly or violently; talk in a wild or vehement way; rave:The demagogue ranted for hours.


Demagogue fits Smaggo to a tee. He just thinks that we're too stupid to see that he presented her story so he could tell his story. She's almost incidental to the point he wants to make.

Astropig
Astropig

@EdUktr @Astropig @redweather


Merriam Webster (online) describes "shameful" as "arousing feeling of shame". That also fits here. I feel ashamed (for him)  that he uses her exemplary career as a McGuffin,which is a Hollywood device that furthers the plot or story line before being discarded as superfluous.

Astropig
Astropig

@Intteach @Astropig


Then write something in your usual witty,engaging style. I'm sure everyone will be hanging on every word !

MiltonMan
MiltonMan

"Although she runs the risk of being evaluated as deficient because she takes on students who present challenges to teachers, her firm commitment to the diverse learners of Rabun County allows her to maintain her focus and tune out the distractions."


(1) She has been teaching for 30 years and she is concerned about an evaluation???

(2) Students who present challenges to teachers = liberal talking point that means disruptive child.  Why are the disruptive children in the classroom to begin with?  Yep - the liberal way make sure each kid gets an "equal" education.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@MiltonMan


Students who present challenges does NOT necessarily mean disruptive children - It can mean English language learners, slow learners, children with poor attendance, children with learning difficulties, special education students, autistic students, students with visual or motor impairments, etc. 


And yes, even teaching after 30 years she needs to be mindful of her evaluation.  We work in a "right to work" state, if you recall - without union protection.  So if a new administrator decides you cost to much with your 30 years experience, they can use poor evaluations to push you out the door.  And yes, it happens!