Inside the Classroom

How One Teacher Transformed Her Classroom

When Verlia Reed-Byrd started teaching, she struggled so much that she almost quit. Then she got some new training, and also met a new student.

Verlia Reed-Byrd and Broderick Chatman
Broderick Chatman and Verlia Reed-Byrd

Many teachers use the summer as a time to learn new tools for the next school year. For one teacher in south Houston, that meant a new way of managing her classroom.

When Verlia Reed-Byrd first taught seventh grade English at Thomas Middle School in south Houston, she struggled so much that she considered quitting.

Then she got some new training to manage the class from TEACH, To Educate All Children, and also met a new student, Broderick Chatman.

Reed-Byrd is now a trainer with TEACH. Chatman is a senior at Texas Southern University, where he is studying business management. 

They reflect on that change and what it meant for each of them.

 

Here’s a transcript of their conversation:

Verlia Reed-Byrd: I just remember when I saw you, I thought you know, you were so sincere and so mannerable and I remember you smiling a lot and I thought this kid can either work for me, or against me in my classroom

Broderick Chatman: I just remember there being a lot of fights, students trying to fight officers, a lot kids skipping, a lot of things was going on and coming into my seventh grade year, prepping for the year, I just got my schedule and I’m talking to some friends and they’re like, ‘Oh you’re taking Ms. Reed-Byrd. She’s mean, she’s rude, she’s going to yell at you and her class — you’re just going to hate it.’

So as I went into the class for the first time, I already had that in my back of my mind. And you didn’t do any of that on the first day. So I was very, very, very surprised.

Reed-Byrd:  If you’d come in the year prior, then you wouldn’t have received that calm teacher, who on the first day greeted you calmly and quietly. I was not that person, even though personally I am, but professionally I was dictated to not the warm person — to come in with a lot of power and aggression

Chatman: I’m thankful for that.

Reed-Byrd: Me, too!

Chatman: I think I arrived in your class right on time. But I just remember throughout that school year, your class, it gave us a different feel. It was fun. We were excited, ready to learn.

Reed-Byrd: It took a lot of self-control to not yell and scream, but I deferred to my training. I was told to do a lot of low-breathing so that I would not escalate my voice, which would lead to screaming and it would be this vicious cycle – I scream, you scream, we all scream and down goes the class.

Chatman: We were actually waiting on you sometimes. ‘Are you ready? Are you ready to start the class?’

Reed-Byrd: You were! You wouldn’t let me rest. You were always ready to learn. It was so much fun.

Chatman: And we didn’t get that in other classes. We got there and a lot of behavior problems, disruptions, teachers – ‘Shut Up!’ and ‘Be Quiet!’

It was just different. We just reacted like, huh, she’s yelling.

Pretty much the opposite of how you treated us. I remember times when we got out of hand in classroom, or too talkative and you’d say just tell us, ‘Come on back’ and everybody, we’d just regain focus from that point.

Reed-Byrd: That was the frozen hand gesture. ‘Come on back … ‘

Chatman: I remember that. I remember that. It’s forever legendary.

Reed-Byrd:  Broderick, I don’t know if I’ve shared this with you, but the year that you came in my classroom,  your personality as a student, was a life-line for me because I could see that this new direction that my career was going in and the tools that I learned and incorporated worked.  

When I saw myself as an educator, as a teacher, the relationship that I had with you was what I always wanted, and you encouraged me to keep teaching, I don’t think I ever told you that.

Chatman: I think that a lot of teachers who were teaching while you were teaching, they pretty much left the school and quit shortly afterwards.

But for you, you worked in that environment, a very tough one to teach in, and you overcame it and now you’re coaching other teachers. I think that you’re very strong for doing that. Being in your class it was life-changing to us.

To see more stories from this series, visit here.

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Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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