Memoir of teachers who make a difference

April 26, 2010

(RELEASE)They lost touch, but Cindi carried the memories of Mrs. Warnecke's teaching methods and kindness to her students with her when she became a teacher. In 2008, Cindi was serving as her state's Teacher of the Year, traveling throughout the state as the Teacher Ambassador encouraging high school and college students to consider teaching as a profession. One morning she heard an announcement on "Good Morning America" inviting viewers to apply to be on the show, "If you'd like to thank someone who's made a difference in your life." She sent in an email describing the influence Mrs. Warnecke played in her life and heard back a month later that they wanted to fly her to New York to be on the show. In true TV fashion, they said they couldn't find Mrs. Warnecke but wanted Cindi to tell her story - and then, presto, they brought Mrs. Warnecke onto the studio set to surprise her, and there were tears and hugs all around. Here is a link to the Since then Cindi and Mrs. Warnecke renewed their relationship, and there are special quotes from Barbara Warnecke at the beginning of each chapter.

Finding Mrs. Warnecke is a beautifully written story of Cindi's struggles and triumphs from her days as a student to her first years as a young teacher and now to her role as an advocate for other teachers. In the book, she gives examples of four essential concepts she practices and encourages others to emulate:

  • Relationships - "I know that anything positive I've ever done as a teacher can be related back to that one word…the importance of making connections with the children in my care."
  • Magic - Cindi works at "find the 'magical' elements that make my classroom a place my students want to be." Whatever It Takes - "My commitment to do whatever I have to do to make my classroom a safe and happy place for learning."
  • Dreams - Called the "Dream Teacher" by her students for the past fifteen years, Cindi believes in dreams and going after them with passion and perseverance. She shares that passion with her students throughout the year and encourages them to pursue their own dreams and passions.
  • Finding Mrs. Warnecke may serves as a guide to all teachers who want to make a positive impact in their own classrooms. Also, the book is interspersed with short essays from instructors describing how they were inspired by one of their teachers. In a bigger sense, Finding Mrs. Warnecke is about acknowledging that special teacher in each person's childhood that made a difference.

    Cindi Rigsbee, M.Ed., was the 2009 North Carolina Teacher of the Year and one of four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year. She is a National Board Certified Teacher with more than twenty years of experience in the classroom. Rigsbee writes a popular blog called The Dream Teacher ( and is a frequent contributor to

    Signed copies of Finding Mrs. Warnecke are available at 57th Street Books, 1301 East 57th Street, Chicago (


    From Author Cindi Rigsbee

    I've spent the past fifteen years explaining to students that they have a great responsibility because they are their parents' "dreams come true." We talk about dreams in my classroom and discuss many dream "heroes" like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Langston Hughes. And although the classroom is the perfect environment to put kids on their "dream track," home is the most important place to have that discussion. Helping kids along their journey to reach their dreams is part of a partnership that should be established between school and home. Here are some tips for parents who want to help their children reach their aspirations:

    1. Remember their dreams are not your dreams.

    We've all seen the ballerina whose daughter wants to be a basketball player. Or vice versa. More often than not the apple doesn't fall far from the tree (Peyton Manning participating in the Super Bowl, for example) but sometimes it does. Support your apples no matter how far away they fall.

    2. Encourage your children to dream big but help them to understand their limitations.

    If your son is 4'8", he probably won't play in the NBA. Don't be a dream stomper, but be sure to encourage other dreams that may be more attainable.

    3. Tell your own dream story.

    My children know that I dreamed to be a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader but that I never went to Dallas. I tell them that the Cheerleader Fairy did not seek me out across the country and tap me with her wand. I encourage my children to go after their dreams because I never reached mine.

    4. Explain to your children that dreams come true - but only after hard work.

    My students think they're going to be in the NBA. But many of them aren't even on the middle school basketball team. Dreams come true after years of commitment and work. Kids need to know that.

    5. Once the dream is decided, do whatever it takes to support your child.

    Enjoy all those ball games, concerts, and dance recitals that are a rite of passage for a parent. Although those hours seem to drag on and on, that time is such an important part of the "dream relationship."

    6. Celebrate each "dream piece."

    Your son the actor may begin by playing an angel in a church play. And then fifteen years later you may be able to sit in your den and watch him on an episode of Law and Order. Wait, that's my son. But believe me, we celebrated "Binky the Angel" with as much enthusiasm as any part that ever came after that. A piece of a dream...that's what they all are...


    From " Finding Mrs. Warnecke: The Difference Teachers Make" By Cindi Rigsbee (Jossey-Bass/Wiley)


    As time went on, little by little I recognized the importance of establishing and nurturing relationships with the students in my classroom. I was particularly drawn to adolescents who struggled with their self-confidence, for reasons that are clear to me now, but weren't at the time. I don't know why I wasn't able to pull from my memories of first grade - and Mrs. Warnecke's unconditional acceptance of me - earlier in my career, but I did begin to understand that accepting all my students, regardless of the misfortunes they dealt with on a daily basis, would be the key to being able to teach them effectively. And as my relationships with my students developed, I knew that I was not only teaching but also learning.


    Thinking back on my school days and to the windowless basement where I attended first grade, I remembered it as a magical place - much more than four walls, rickety desks, and a blackboard. I began to test some ideas for making the classroom a place where kids would want to be - a room like Mrs. Warnecke's. Here's what I've learned in twenty years about making the classroom a place kids want to be:

    Breaking down the walls - to alleviate claustrophobia, I try as often as possible to get the students out of the classroom. Students have given me beautifully written descriptions of spider webs, flowers, blades of grass, and clouds - it would be difficult to find that creativity inside four walls.

    Walls with a message - because many of my students live in deplorable situations, I've always wanted to ensure that they have the best possible environment when they're at school. I always remembered fondly that the decorations in Mrs. Warnecke's room were made by her - she taught us how to tell time on a handmade clock she had drawn with a human face and hands. One type of decoration I often use is what I call "story starters." I cover an entire wall with pictures of some kind, and when students get stuck for writing ideas, they can look at the wall to get a jump start. Now, instead of buying classroom decorations from stores, I use student work and projects, and we make our own wall designs every year. And student artists get a venue for showcasing their creations.

    Creating Adventure - in an elementary school classroom I visited once, the teacher had fashioned, out of bulletin board paper, a three-dimensional "cave" that surrounded her classroom door. To get into the room, everyone, adults included, had to get on their knees and climb through the cave door. Inside the room were computers placed in tents and animals in terrariums and cages. I asked a student how he liked the class. He replied, "It's not a class. It's an adventure." I knew at that moment that I wanted my classroom to be an adventure.

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