Patience and organizational skills keep Derek Lear ahead of his second graders

Doreen Heintz

Second-grade teacher Derek Lear checks Bjorn Pederson’s workbook Thursday morning at Highland Park.                          Photo by Doreen Heintz

On a Thursday morning, second-grade teacher Derek Lear is busy giving instructions to his class of 18 students. They are working in their language arts workbook so Lear is busy explaining what the students are to do on each page.
“After you are done with your workbook pages, then you need to take a piece of paper from here on the table,” he explains. “Take the paper, fold it in half and then using a pencil draw a half of heart. Cut the heart out and on the inside of the heart write down a kindness message. We are going to give one of the other classes your heart.”
The Lewistown elementary students are celebrating “kindness” week at school. The students have all taken a pledge to be kind to others during the week and during the rest of the school year.
Before Lear has a chance to sit down, he reminds his students he wants to see their workbook pages before they start on their heart project. As soon as he gets to his desk, one of the students meets him there and is ready to show his completed workbook pages. Other students also come up to him. Some of them have questions about what they are supposed to be doing on the workbook pages, while others have already completed that task and are ready to go on.
Lear has to remind the students they really don’t need help from their neighbors to finish the heart project. Some students quickly finish making their hearts, but most of them seem to be struggling about just what to say.
Leaving his desk, Lear goes back in front of his class. He reminds them of the pledge they took to be kind.
“Now you want to remind other students to be kind,” he says. “That is what you need to be writing.”
He also tells the students they do not know who is going to get their heart so the message can’t be for a certain individual.
While some students are still finishing their workbook pages, others are already on to making a second heart.
“Once you put a saying on the inside,” Lear instructs, “you can decorate the outside using crayons or markers.”
One student wants to take her heart home to her parents, but Lear encourages her to make one for another student first.
“If we have time later in the day, you can make one to take home,” he explained.
Lear also reminds the students to complete one heart before they start another one.
At one point during the morning, he returns to the front of the classroom with both hands in the air.
“Eyes on me, hands up,” he says.
This is one way Lear uses to get the attention of all his students. If the students have their hands in the air, they cannot be using a pencil to work at the same time.
Lear tells the students it is only about 10 minutes until recess time so they need to be finishing up their heart projects and cleaning up their area. He also encourages the students to do some silent reading before recess.
The morning seems to fly by. As recess time gets closer, Lear checks to make sure all of the students have cleaned up their area. The students have placed their hearts in a nice pile on the table in the front of the classroom.
Before the students are excused for recess, Lear explains just exactly what is going to happen after recess. He reminds them also to get their snack before returning to the classroom after recess. 
“OK you are in stealth mode, voices off as you go into the hallway to get ready to go outside,” said Lear.
The students put on snow pants, boots, jackets, mittens and hats as they prepare to go outside.
“I am just thankful the weather has warmed up so they can go outside,” he says. “It gets to be a long day if we have to have them inside for recess.”
Lear is able to take a short break once his students are out the door for recess.

Lear loves teaching and coaching
Just like so many things that have changed over the years, having a male teacher in a lower elementary classroom is something not too often seen even just 20 years ago.
“I knew I always wanted to coach,” explained Lear about his current teaching position. “Most of the coaches I had growing up were also teachers, so when I was going to college and playing football at MSU Northern, I was enrolled to be a teacher in health and physical education.
“Because I played football, it took me five years to complete my degree,” he added. “I had all the credits I needed for health and physical education after four and a half years so my advisor encouraged me to finish up with an elementary teaching endorsement also.”
Lear ended up student teaching in a second-grade classroom in Havre.
“Orin Johnson student taught in Malta when I was in Havre,” Lear explained. “The two of us have been friends for a long time. We both applied for the elementary P.E. position here in Lewistown two years ago, without knowing the other one had applied.”
When the two were both interviewed for the P.E. position, the Lewistown School District wanted to employ both of them, so Johnson was offered the P.E. job and Lear was offered a second-grade position.
“It really ended up working well for me,” Lear said. “I had just finished student teaching in the second grade at Havre. So much of what I did there, I was able to use here. Both schools even use the same reading curriculum.”
Not only does Lear enjoy teaching second grade, but he is also an assistant football coach and an assistant basketball coach for Fergus.
“I am learning a ton about coaching from Vic (Feller, FHS football coach) and Scott (Sparks, FHS basketball coach),” Lear added. “I do want to be a head coach sometime down the road but right now I am happy just where I am at.”
Being at the elementary level during the school day and then transitioning to high school for coaching Lear sees as a positive.
“It is kind of nice not having to be with high school kids all the time,” he said.
Lear doesn’t see being a male second-grade teacher as being such an oddity.
“My students have never brought it up,” he said. “I think some of the parents of my students like having a male teacher for their kids.”
Lear added that having a lot of patience and an easy-going personality has helped him in his role as a second-grade teacher.
“I also have to be organized and have good time-management skills to teach and coach at the same time,” he concluded.




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