Louisville Magazine

DEC 2018

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 12.18 49 Why did you become a teacher? "When I was a little girl growing up, I always had the knack for sitting down and playing with kids. I was one of the youngest in my family. I could never t in with the older kids — you know how that goes — so I would end up with all the little guys. As I got older, I taught Sunday school. I went to camp. I always felt that it might've been my calling in my life." You've been teaching for 30 years. How do you persevere? "Over my career, I think I've been in 19 di erent schools. I've taught in four counties in Kentucky, and I taught in Florida for 11 years. Just meeting di erent people, learning di erent cultures — that's part of it. I didn't get caught in that rut and stay there. ƒat's helped me the most. Have there been times in the past when I thought, 'You know what? I don't know if I can continue doing this.' ƒere have been. Working with kids can be stressful, but never to the point where I'm going to walk out. "I started my teaching career in sixth grade at a school in Eastern Kentucky. It was way out. Way out. I drove 45 minutes to get there every day. I had 12 sixth grade students in a nurse's oŽce — and you know those rooms aren't very big. We had tables crammed in there. I was there for a year. I taught special education for two years. I taught music and the arts to kindergarten through eight grade. I've taught just about every grade level except for kindergarten." What major changes have you seen in education over your career? "Oh, gosh. I was thinking about this the other day. Educa- tion — it seems like a cycle. ƒings I saw 30 years ago when I started to teach — like using textbooks — went away for a while. ƒen they came back. ƒen using workshop models. ƒey're all things we've done in the past and it's circled back through with a di erent name. It's just one of those things. Education has been really, really tough. Working in Je er- son County, the pay is extremely good here, compared with any other school district I've ever taught in. "ƒere've been counties I've taught in where it's all about the numbers, all about the testing. How far can you push your kids to go this year? In Florida, as I was leaving there, they were going to do performance-based testing. Your pay was going to be based on how well your kids did. ƒat was crazy." What's the most important thing in guiding the classroom? "I've done a lot of reading about positive mental attitude, about how to get the best out of people. I could name book after book. When I came to my classroom at Maupin, I decid- ed — let me just load this down on you, girl. I was setting my room up before school started, putting my scissors out, my glue out, containers. I had someone come to my room and say, 'Hey, Mrs. Combs, you might not want to do that. ƒe kids will take them and you won't have any to work with.' I automatically put lids on the containers or put them back in the cabinet. I kept getting the feeling that the kids couldn't be trusted, that it was really a bad school. Even when I was leav- ing Shelby County, a lot of people were making comments. 'Why would you want to go to a school like that?' "You know, I work with a lot of Kentucky Refugee Minis- tries families, and that was one of the biggest reasons I decid- ed to come back to elementary. I missed teaching kids to read and write. Trying to get my room set up and get everything going, I realized that the kids that I work with here, they need to feel a sense of belonging. ƒey want to be a part of some- thing. We all want to be a part of something. I wanted them to t in my classroom, to feel wanted and loved in my class- room. And, of course, I'm white and all my kids are all black. Last year, I had one white girl. But they're no di erent than I am, and they know that. ƒey know Mrs. Combs thinks that. So in the morning when I have my morning message up, it always says things like, 'You are the best.' I want them to be- lieve they are the best. Because they are. ƒey work hard and I believe if we instill in them the value of who they are and who they want to be, I believe they'll rise to the occasion." How do you help kids who come from a bad home and might live in trauma? "It's hard, I'm not going to lie to you. I could cry right now, because — oh, my gosh, don't go there. ƒere are nights that I don't sleep, because I want so much for these kids. I want more for them than they can see. Right now, they can't see what's out there for them. Because of their life situations. And they're young right now. ƒey really don't know what they're missing. Sure, they watch TV. Sure, they can see out there, but they don't really understand. A lot of these children don't leave the city of Louisville. ƒe only way they get out is if we take them on a eld trip. Even going across the Ohio River, they'll ask, 'Is that an ocean?' 'No, baby, it's a river.' You know what I'm saying? ƒat's the kind of things that I hear. ƒey don't really understand what life can be for them. "Girl, this is the toughest job. You don't sleep at night, and you're laying there thinking about, 'How am I going to teach this lesson? How am I going to tie this in?' Even being here, the expectations are the same as they are at Manual High School. I have to teach to standards, even though a lot of my kids are on the second-grade reading level. Do I back up and teach them what they miss? Or do I teach them fourth-grade stu that they can't even read? It's a balancing act. But, to me, if they grow, as a student — yes, on tests, but more as a young person — that's what is important to me. KAMALA COMBS 30 YEARS TEACHING MAUPIN ELEMENTARY FOURTH GRADE

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