There are all kinds of inspirational signs hanging in Cathy Fischer’s classroom at Meadow Hill Middle School.
But the one that best reflects her teaching philosophy is a banner that hangs from the ceiling.
It goes like this: “You are not finished when you lose. You are finished when you quit.”
“My philosophical goal is to make everyone excited about learning, and letting students know it’s OK to make mistakes,” said Fischer, the school’s health enhancement and physical education teacher.
“It’s hard for kids to get past that,” she said. “But I want them to learn the material so these students know if you don’t learn it now, you will be given more practice next week.”
Sticking with a standards-based grading system gives Fischer the necessary flexibility to teach her students in-depth material.
“The more in-depth a topic is, we tend to have more retention,” Fischer explained. “And it helps me focus on what a kid needs to know and how he or she can learn it.”
The teaching style and approach mean Fischer is always working to improve how she delivers her lessons so her students truly master the information.
It’s a challenge the 20-year teaching veteran embraces, and her effort has garnered praise from her colleagues.
Recently, Fischer was awarded the 2013 Honor Award from the Montana Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, which is the highest award given by the organization and is bestowed on individuals who have gone above and beyond in the classroom and serve as an outstanding role model in the school and community.
“It was really nice to be recognized, but these kind of things don’t happen in a vacuum – there are a lot of people who help you along the way,” Fischer said.
Perhaps the biggest influence in her award-winning career are the students themselves, Fischer said.
“I have learned so much from them, every day,” she said. “We ask them to learn and to change and reach for new things every day, and I’ve learned not to be afraid to try new things,” she said. “I feel if we, as teachers, are asking our students to grow and change, we should be willing and able to do the same.”
Fischer’s creative and enthusiastic energy makes for a fun learning environment – one that students want to be part of, said Allie Kerr, 13.
“She encourages everybody and she doesn’t move on until everybody gets it – gets whatever we are learning,” Kerr said.
On Tuesday, the second-period class was learning how to use pedometers, how to measure stride length, and examining whether or not someone takes more steps if they are involved in an activity or sport in which they are skilled.
“I love this class because I usually don’t like P.E., but Miss Fischer makes it fun,” said Taylor Kirkegaard. “She actually makes me want to work, and she is so motivating.”
As part of Fischer’s lessons, Fischer spends the first eight minutes of class “walking and talking” with her students outdoors.
The blast of exercise gets the students moving, it allows them to socialize, and when they return to the classroom, they are ready to learn. Often, the outing involves writing in a journal.
“For me, it’s about classroom management. Some teachers don’t think they have enough time to do something like walk and talk, but for me, it’s eight to 10 minutes of the class that if I didn’t do it, I would be managing the class, asking them to pay attention, to concentrate,” Fischer said. “When they return to the classroom, every one of them is ready to learn.”
The issue becomes even more pressing as the day unfolds and students have been sitting in classrooms for several hours at a time.
“Research shows us that humans learn better by moving,” Fischer said, and explained she started incorporating walking in her classrooms about three years ago after attending an education conference on the topic.
“A lot of European countries include exercise in the school day,” she said, “and research supports that it makes us better learners.”
There’s also the added benefit of helping students become more fit.
Because of the eight- to 10-minute daily walks, Fischer’s students walked 40 miles during the last school year.
At a time when young people are spending more time indoors and on computers, getting kids moving is critical, Fischer said.
“I love using the pedometers to teach students about moving and it’s an inexpensive way for kids to measure their physical activity,” she said. “It really gives kids feedback about how little or much they move, and there are always surprises.
“I always get a kid who says the pedometer is broken because they think they are moving, but they aren’t moving that much.”
Using the pedometer has been fun, said Franki Baldwin, 13.
“I do have a better idea of how I move now,” he said, “and to stay healthy, it is really important to keep moving.
“And Miss Fischer makes it all really interesting – she’s like a kid herself. She’s always happy.”