OSSIAN, Ind. (WANE) Step inside Bonnie Dickey's seventh grade language arts classroom at Norwell Middle School and you'll see the standard chalkboard, books, and desks. You'll also see lots of her own special touches, like the chairs she bought so that her students would have a comfortable place to sit and read.
For Bonnie, it's all about creating a welcoming environment.
"It's just about loving the kids and giving them a safe place to come to every day," explains Bonnie. "They just want to be heard. They just want to be loved and they want to be cared for. And they just want to know that we're there for them. Once that happens, once you create that rapport with a child, everything else will fall into place after that, I believe."
In a two-hour special that aired Friday night, CBS looked at the American education system through the eyes of teachers, as they navigate changes in state and federal requirements, changes in technology, and changes in how students learn.
NewsChannel 15 got a small glimpse of what it's like for teachers in northeast Indiana; teachers like Bonnie Dickey, who set her sights on becoming a teacher when she was in middle school herself.
"I had this young, right-out-of-college teacher in sixth grade and she did journals with us. It was cutting edge at that time to do journals and have us write about our own thoughts and write poems. And I knew then that I wanted to be a teacher," Bonnie said. "I've never thought I shouldn't have done it. However, my daughter has said at times that she thinks about being a teacher and sometimes I try to steer her a little bit away from that, just because of the way education has changed in the past five years."
Among those changes she's referring to: more state-mandated testing. In that regard, she's critical of Indiana's former Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett.
"I feel like teachers have gotten somewhat of a bad rap. We were painted in not a very good light. It's been difficult - the pressure put on teachers and students to do well on standardized testing and tying it to pay raises and our performance. It's put a lot of added pressure on all of us and we already put enough pressure on ourselves," continued Bonnie. "Everybody who has gone into the profession goes in there because they love kids and they want to work with kids and they want to help kids. Add that additional pressure to do well on a test, it just makes it very difficult."
Bonnie said what can be troubling is that the pressure put on teachers sometimes trickles down to the students.
"Third quarter we spend a lot of time getting ready for the tests. Not teaching to the tests, obviously, but building up their stamina for reading and writing so when they do their longer passages of reading and longer passages of writing, they're ready to go. That does take time away from other things that I could be doing with them that are probably more fun."
Bonnie said another big change she's seen in recent years is the way kids learn. It's much more interactive and technology-based. In fact, planning is underway now to put iPads in the hands of all students at Norwell Middle School next year. That puts many more resources at their fingertips.
Educators have to work hard to always stay one step ahead of the students, which Bonnie said can be challenging for teachers who aren't as tech-savvy. The increased reliance on devices like iPads or laptops isn't all bad, though. The Internet has become a vital tool in the classroom and a great way to improve communication with parents.
"The technology can at times be somewhat of a learning curve, but it's been great as well. For example, we have our grade books that the parents can access 24 hours a day. They can know every single day what assignments their children are missing, what their grades are. They don't have to wait for a midterm anymore. They know," Bonnie explained. "At Norwell and in this community, we're very lucky. We have a lot of kids whose parents are very involved in everything that they do."
With so many changes in education recently, what advice would Bonnie have for those just earning a teaching degree and starting their career?
"They're probably very passionate at this point in their lives. I feel like I'm still passionate about my job. I love coming in this classroom every day. And as long as they have the passion and they really want to work with kids and they really enjoy being with kids, that's really all that matters at the end of the day."
Bonnie said her job doesn't end when the bell rings, but she doesn't mind. "It can be hard to balance my time with a family, with two kids who are very busy. I'm always toting my book bag around with me filled with papers that need to be graded. Every teacher puts in many, many hours outside of the classroom. From answering the emails or grading the papers or going out and buying clothes for kids that you know just come from a situation where they might not have clothes. And just worrying. I worry about these kids like [they're] my own when I know sometimes that they might be going home to a situation that is probably not the best. And so when I say I want to give them a safe place to come everyday, I want them to come in here and know that I care about them. They can just take a deep breath, they can relax and they can have some fun and learn."
Bonnie said she works hard to meet the individual needs of each of her students, but it's become more challenging because the needs have changed and have gotten greater. Still, she feel like she's right where she belongs.
She's also quick to give credit to those around her at Norwell, including administrators.
"It is such a family - amongst the teachers, amongst the community. Our leadership from the top down is amazing and that's really where it starts. I have changed so much as a teacher in the last five years and I know a lot of that has to do with my principal. I'm very blessed because he [Tim Wilson] is a great guy and he believes in me - and he does for me what I like to do for my students. The way he believes in me and feels about me as a teacher has given me a boost."
"This is my 20th year and I feel like I could do it for another twenty. I feel more passionate about it than ever before," Bonnie concluded.
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Police have charged six people and are still looking for one woman they believe is living in the Fort Wayne area. She faces meth dealing charges.
A Fort Wayne man is facing eight charges after he spit on a police officer who arrested him. He also spit on nurses and other officers while being treated at a local hospital.
Fort Wayne area firefighters, police officers, and EMT's are competing in the annual Battle of the Badges blood drive this holiday season.
Indiana residents receiving food stamps will begin receiving their monthly benefits on new dates under a state law approved earlier this year.
Police have identified a person of interest in Sunday’s stabbing outside of a home on Bluebird Court, off of St. Joe Road.
Police in Indianapolis say a seventh-grade boy has died after apparently collapsing and being found face down in the snow.
Police are looking for a white man who is 6'0" to 6'2" with a thin build they say robbed a CVS in November. He may have been driving a gray or dark green Ford SUV.
Police from several agencies have responded to multiple crashes overnight due to slick roads from a wintry mix that moved through the area late Sunday and early Monday morning.
A rural Angola man faces six felony charges for allegedly sexually assaulting a 26-year-old woman.
A local family wants help in making sure their loved one's murderer stays in prison.
Police said a man barricaded himself inside of a home on Genessee Avenue early Sunday morning for more than two hours after threatening to commit suicide.
Detectives believe a three-year-old boy may have shot himself at a home in Indianapolis Saturday night. Police said the shooting appears to have been accidental.
There will be several holiday-themed events this weekend in the Fort Wayne area, including Christmas displays, children’s parties, visits from Santa Claus, and more.
The 122nd Fighter Wing hosted the annual Airman of the Year Awards on Saturday afternoon to celebrate the achievements of members of the 122nd.