Home instructor: 'I believe in kids'

April 27, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

For Brian Stoops, passion, patience and persistence are keys to unlocking his troubled students' academic potential.

"I believe in kids. I talk to them. I tell them they have worth," said Stoops, 59, of Keedysville. "I think if you're going to transverse the emotional bridge, you have to touch on some personal issues."

A retired engineer and production manager at Mack Trucks, Stoops for the past three years has worked with Washington County Public Schools students who are unable to attend school for prolonged periods of time due to physical illness or psychological problems.

He is one of more than 60 part-time instructors - including his wife, certified teacher Christine Stoops - on the roster for the county Board of Education's Home and Hospital Instruction program.


Stoops often is paired with students who have emotional or behavioral problems that hinder their success in the classroom. He has a knack for forming positive relationships with these students and earning their trust, said Tanya Zimmerman, the board's home instruction facilitator.

"He's successful because he really cares about children," Zimmerman said. "He and his wife are just wonderful. They're two of the best teachers we have."

Stoops credits his patience with his deep faith and years of management experience. His calm and gentle demeanor comes across during an hourlong conversation in which he turns to the Bible to help explain his motivation for helping children in need.

The apostle Peter gave his hand, not a handout, to a lame beggar and he was healed, Stoops said. Adults who take the time to mentor children can also make a positive difference in their lives.

"We often put money in the can," he said. "But we haven't given them a hand."

Long involved with his church's young members, Stoops decided to try substitute teaching after helping adults learn computer skills at his brother's software training company. He chose home instruction rather than classroom work because he enjoys the one-on-one interaction with students, he said.

"I migrated towards kids because kids are our future," Stoops said. "I believe that if we reach out to them, give them the fundamentals, and put kids in charge, the world will be a better place."

Stoops instructs an average of five students per week, spending at least six hours weekly with each child. He generally assigns about two hours worth of homework for every hour of one-on-one instruction, he said.

Unlike his wife, Stoops cannot teach foreign languages. He sometimes turns to her for help with high-level math classes - but that's rare because most of Stoops' students are still learning the basics, he said.

"I expect to fail some, and (Christine) is my safety net," Stoops said. "She can do anything. She's my tutor."

Often, Stoops resorts to unconventional teaching methods to engage his students, who range in age from 5 to 18.

For children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, that might mean a walk to Hagerstown's City Park for an outdoor science lesson. Stoops tried to curb one student's foul language by telling her a story about the late Malcolm X, who built a strong vocabulary by copying words from the dictionary into a spiral notebook, he said.

Sometimes, Stoops just talks and listens to his students until their emotional barriers lower enough for them to begin learning. He doesn't give up on his students, he said.

"I believe that which we persist in doing makes us stronger," Stoops said.

After school four days each week, Brian and Christine Stoops also tutor girls who live at the San Mar Children's Home in Boonsboro.

"I learn as much as the kids do," Stoops said. "And I have so much fun it should be illegal."

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