Conneaut teacher makes connections with students

Conneaut teacher Paul Reinhart, left, talks with Kiwanis member Dave Hyslop.

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

Fifth grade teacher Paul Reinhart revealed a secret on Thursday that he has learned over and over during his 26 years in education. Students are far more important than their test scores.

“Kids do not equal their test scores,” Reinhart said.

That is one of many beliefs that earned Reinhart, a teacher at Conneaut Elementary, the honor of being named an “inspirational educator” by the Bowling Green Kiwanis Club.

Reinhart described his journey to Bowling Green City Schools.

He grew up in North Dakota, where they have real winters, and graduated in the top half of his class of 15 students. He was involved in everything – football, basketball, baseball, music, theater.

That paid off for him when he started teaching, since back then elementary classes were self-contained.

“You needed to be a jack of all trades,” he said.

Reinhart was hired to teach second grade by Conneaut Principal Ted Eldridge.

“I liked them. They’re short,” Reinhart, who stands at “5-foot 15 inches,” said of the second graders.

In 2000 he moved to fifth grade where he teaches math and language arts.

He is a big fan of children’s literature, and was once asked if he would read a grown-up book. No need. “I love me some children’s literature,” he said with a grin.

And as for math … Reinhart doesn’t accept that someone might not be a “math person.”

“You don’t know how to do math – yet,” he said.

Reinhart apologized to the Kiwanis members who did poorly at math in school because the teacher said math problems were done “one way or the highway.”

“The joy of math is there are so many ways to solve a problem,” he said. “The stinky part of math is there are so many ways to solve a problem.”

Reinhart is big on letting students make mistakes. That is a vital part of the learning process, he said.

“It’s OK to fail and screw up,” he said.

And that includes Reinhart.

“I’m a teacher who wants to learn. I’m not satisfied where I’m at. I want to get better,” he said.

While Reinhart’s subjects are math and language arts, he realizes his responsibilities go far beyond those lessons.

He shared with the Kiwanis stories about some of the tougher cases he has encountered in the classroom. He recalled one boy who constantly gave Reinhart “death stares.” Years later, Reinhart was told by the boy’s mother that her son said he learned more in Reinhart’s class than anywhere else.

“I just about passed out,” Reinhart said. “I did reach him somehow.”

He also talked about two brothers who were polar opposites. Reinhart reached out to both of them – to meet them where they were, and to bring them where they needed to be. If a child needs a hug, Reinhart’s there. If a child needs to feel like he and the teacher share “inside jokes,” Reinhart’s the guy.

He tells children that it’s OK to be shy. Then they work together to get beyond that awkwardness.

“I missed out on a lot of life because of that,” he said.

Parents have praised Reinhart for inspiring their children to become leaders.

But there are always some cases that are hard to crack. He talked about a boy he encountered one day during bus duty. (“That’s a lot of fun,” he said about bus duty.)

The child, a kindergartner “little shaver” with his pants riding low, kept bugging Reinhart. So much so, that the pair started taking a walk down to the principal’s office. The boy’s persistence and Reinhart’s willingness to give him attention ended up creating a bond between the two.

Reinhart is now the recipient of melted pieces of chocolate carried down the long hallway from the kindergarten room.

“Give people a chance,” he said. “Give them a break.”

A child might be growing up in a home with meth, or may have just been told that his dad doesn’t want him anymore.

“Those are the kids I work with,” Reinhart said.

“Kindness and politeness never go out of style,” he said. “And ‘sorry’ is priceless.”

Appreciation for teaching can show up in a melted piece of chocolate carried down a long hallway, squeezed tight in a little hand. Or appreciation can show up years later, when a parent reveals the big difference made in a child’s life.

“It’s sad we don’t realize what someone meant to us till years gone by,” he said, encouraging his audience to reach out and thank people for the difference they’ve made in their lives.

Reinhart was nominated for the Kiwanis Inspirational Educator award by his peers in the Bowling Green School District.

Reinhart currently serves as president of the school foundation. He has also served as a board member of the International Society for Technology in Education, and in 2002, he was honored as the Ohio Technology Teach of the Year at a Ohio School Net Conference.

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