Christi Savoy (Part 2)

Educator — Listening to Help Students Be Their Best

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Education, Jesus' Commandment - To Love as He Loved

Christi Savoy is a long-time, devoted, and superb elementary school teacher. In Part 1 of her interview, she shared how she sees all of her students as God's children. Here, find out how she helps children overcome fears, feel good about themselves, and learn from mistakes. She shares why she has so much fun teaching, too.

It is amazing to be God's children!
The children want to feel good about themselves. They want to make wise choices. When Jesus was talking about being like little children, I think he was loving their receptivity to good and how quickly they move on. They don't hold on to things very long. One minute a child can be upset at another child, but two minutes later, they're best friends. They don't hold on to hurt feelings. They trust God more easily than adults do. They know they're loved and cared for. And if they don't know this, then I reassure them that everything is well.

There's so much going on with each individual child emotionally, socially, developmentally. It must be compounded in a class.
That's why I love the 23rd Psalm: "The lord is my shepherd. I shall not want" (1). It helps me realize that all my students are provided for, cared for, and have what they need. God provides for their needs. My role is to constantly pay attention to see what's the most important thing going on at the moment, what I need to address right now.

I'm always on my toes with young ones. There are a lot of different situations that call for me to be still and listen first, and to follow God's lead rather than my own human opinions. It can be hard when children are younger—the little booboos are so big for them. They run up to me in tears: "I'm bleeding; I'm bleeding," and I can't even find a drop of blood. So I help them get their thought off of themselves and focus on what's good. And I trust that God is leading me to say and do the right thing.

How do you help them get through their fears?
I work with thought. A lot of things we deal with are thought-based, and it's not always evident what's going on. So I get still and listen. For instance, I had a little boy who was crying. I couldn't figure out why at the beginning. But eventually I found out that the older sister had gone on a field trip, and someone had come back with scabies. So he was afraid to come to school because he thought he was going to get sick, which was not the case. I had to reassure him that he was ok. When I found out what he was thinking, I could help him get rid of his fear.

This is true when I'm teaching a concept, too. I listen and look for what's interfering with the students learning a particular concept: Do they need more time? Do I need to explain something differently? It's really good when they make mistakes because they let me into their thinking. They give me clues as to what they're not understanding, which I can then correct. So I'm always telling the kids that everybody can feel free to make a mistake; it's good to make mistakes; we usually learn more from our mistakes than we do from a right answer. Perfectionism—getting things perfect humanly—really is not good. As long as we're trying our best, we're doing all we need to do.

I love your thought that mistakes reveal our thinking. So many kids don't want to make mistakes, but it's so important to learn from mistakes and be resilient.
There's a TED talk online about this very issue. The speaker says that grit is the most important skill, or quality, a student must have in order to be successful. Grit is defined as not giving up when something is difficult. It's a very hard thing to teach. People who are most successful are not necessarily the brightest; but they are those who fail and learn, fail and learn, fail and learn.

It's kind of like refining gold. You stick gold into the fire to get off all the impurities. When you fail, you are actually taking away some of the impurities, refining the thought to fully understand whatever is necessary to succeed at the endeavor. So one of the ways I try to help students have grit is to work with them with games. When they're playing a game, if they don't win, I encourage them not to give up, but to keep trying. It's like playing an instrument: you're going to play a lot of wrong notes when you first start, but eventually, you'll move through the notes and play beautiful music. It's the same with teaching for me. As I go through the years, it's a refining process.

Why do you continue to love teaching?
I think it was my calling and that's what God wanted me to do. I feel most comfortable working with small children. I really feel like I have a lot of gifts to give these children. And I give all the credit to God. Even the way I explain things to them so they understand a concept comes from God.

I think being silly really helps them grasp a concept, such as the way I teach synonyms. I like calling them cinnamon. I explain that cinnamon adds spice to their writing. I bring in cinnamon, have them smell it, taste it. Then I have them get out their cinnamon synonyms when they write. It's a fun way for them to remember what synonyms are all about. Then when I teach them the difference between "know" and "no," I draw a picture of a girl's head with the word "know" inside. I explain that this is the "know" you know in your head. When you're inspired, you can teach in a different way to make ideas more child-friendly.

It sounds like you have fun with them. Fun and play are so critical to children's ability to be creative and inventive. But it seems like academics are replacing play. What are your views on this?
I think everything needs to be balanced, and I don't think it is. It's good to have high expectations because children really respond to them. It's amazing to see what little children can do and love to do. I'm amazed at how hard some of the tests are that students are given. Can they do it? Some, yes. Should they being doing it? I don't know. Education is more than cognitive development. True education deals with the whole person. Really, children learn through play and hands-on experiences, which are more meaningful to them.

I also wonder why we don't give our kids time any more. A lot of people are into programming their kids, and their kids don't have down time. They don't have time just to be. Why can't they have time? Why can't they be children? It's this balance thing again.

Well, Christi, your students sure are blessed to have you.
I'm blessed by them. Its fun to see the students who come back from high school and college to visit me. I give all the credit to God.