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
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
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
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
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
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
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