By Lindsay Pace Daffron // Photo by Lauren Wood
One look around Monica Baldwin’s sixth-grade gifted classroom is all it takes to recognize chaos. From a “tinker table” with disassembled electronics to a sewing machine station, her space is a vibrant blend of kinetic energy and creativity. Baldwin’s presence, however, is quiet and serene.
When she first began teaching at Pontotoc Middle School four years ago, she wasn’t always this calm. She wanted order, precision. That is, until she had her daughter.
“I kid you not. The day I learned my daughter could hear my voice in the womb, my teaching style went from wanting authority to being a mother,” Baldwin said.
Now her maternal instinct drives her teaching methods. She leads classes as a family, encouraging her near 50 students, distributed across five class periods, to debate, discuss and play together peacefully. She uses a paper mache globe dubbed the “orb of discussion” to regulate conversation and behavior. Whoever holds the orb may speak; whoever doesn’t must listen.
By the school year’s end, every student will have listened to each other, and they will know Baldwin as a confidante–a safespace. Since she only sees them once a day for 60 minutes, she prioritizes individual attention. She uses Google Classroom to send students articles or fiction pieces they might be interested in. The trick, though, is that she sends a different article to every student, making each of them feel important.
“I like making them feel special,” Baldwin said. “I held onto any little thing that was said to me when I was young, and I remember it now. I want them to feel that, too.”
She also cherishes students by placing “affirmations”—sticky notes filled with inspiration or compliments—on their binders when they aren’t looking, and by simply listening to them. Unsurprisingly, students are willing to talk.
“Some situations are not an easy fix, and I don’t try to fix them,” she said. “But I can always listen.”
She believes every student brings something different to her class, so whether she listens, sends interesting articles or writes affirmations, she models compassion and lifelong learning with enthusiasm.
“Getting to know the child and help them be a better them has been the best part of everything I’ve ever done,” Baldwin said.