At the start of each weekday, Terry Martin knows he has the potential to help each student in his classroom have a happy and productive day. By greeting the kids at the classroom door, Martin, a second grade teacher at Robbie Hall Parker Elementary, one of three elementary schools in Macomb County’s Clintondale Community Schools, can sense when a student is having a hard time. He takes quick action to turn that around, he says.
“If they’re in a bad mood, I invite them to my desk first thing to talk and find out how I can help their day go better,” Martin says. “I know that if a child has a problem at home or in the classroom, instead of letting that problem take away from learning, I help the child problem solve. Even at age 7, I’m working to help them be more independent so they can solve problems, even with their siblings and parents.”
That kind of extra attention isn’t just great teaching. It’s a caring attitude that Martin says is typical at Clintondale Community Schools. In fact, Martin experienced this same individualized attention when he was a middle and high school student in the district. He’s a proud Class of 1985 graduate of Clintondale High School who went on to earn a teaching degree from Oakland University. He says he’s been teaching at Clintondale Community Schools for 25 years and eventually plans to retire from the district. Martin is one of several teachers and staff who have returned to the district after attending its schools.
“I told some of my colleagues that when we walked back into the school after teaching remotely during COVID it was like coming home,” Martin says.
Recognized and understood
Martin says he felt validated and appreciated as a high school student and that helped him develop relationships with his teachers.
Though he was shy, one of his high school teachers noted how hard he worked. “That meant I was being noticed as an individual and not a number, which made me recognize how important that is for kids I teach, too,” he says. As a senior elective in high school, Martin helped his math teacher support her freshman students on basic math principles. “I helped kids see where they made mistakes and I loved that,” he recalls.
Through his experiences, Martin says he recognized that kids who like and trust their teachers want to learn, so he works extra hard to connect with his students.
“A lot of students don’t have male or even positive role models in their lives, so it’s great to see, especially for boys, that they know they can talk with me,” Martin says. “I have a knack for building relationships with them, and when they get to older grades I still talk with them and if they are struggling, I help them get back on track.”
It’s a commitment to students that Martin says teachers at Clintondale embrace. “We are a small district with an authentic family feel. The teachers and staff know each student’s name,” he says. “Kids will walk away from our district knowing that everyone cares about them.”
As much as Martin works to connect with his students, he reaches out to parents and families, too. “Those parent and home connections are important because children need to see that their parents think education is important, too,” he says.
“We don’t just make phone calls home to report on challenges and problems. We call when things are going well.”
Martin says he and his colleagues work hard to make parents know that they can come to them if they have questions or concerns. “Those relationships are critical,” he says, sharing a recent story about the school custodian who showed him a photo of her 23-year-old son — one of Martin’s former students. “She told me what a great job he’s doing in his life and that made me feel so awesome.”
So many benefits
Each evening, as Martin processes his day, he reflects on his teaching and asks himself if he reached all the students he needed to reach that day. “I think about how the kids acted and their behavior. If a student is absent for more than one day, I call and check in on them. I’m always here if anyone needs help with a homework assignment,” he says.
The best part of Martin’s job as a second grade teacher? “Watching their growth, academically and emotionally,” he says, adding that this is a better reward than the “Outstanding Teacher” recognition he’s received. “That a-ha moment when you see them catch on and get excited and get a smile on their face is every teacher’s dream come true.”
Learn more about Clintondale Community Schools at clintondaleschools.net.