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A Teacher's Story

              A Little Love in Education ... goes a long way

Stories about teachers and teaching - I could write forever, I think. I was a success as a teacher, and maybe someday I will get the nerve to write about my career. It would be a good thing for me to engage in such a catharsis as I did not leave teaching willingly. However, I want to relate a story about this subject Steel has brought up that involves a little twist on the student/teacher relationship.

Years ago I taught what was then called 'basic' classes. Basic classes were the lowest classes filled with underachievers and discipline problems. I taught the academic and honors classes, but because I was able to connect well with the 'lower' kids, I always had a few classes each year. I loved those kids. The majority of the students were black, and by the time I got them as seniors, it amazed me that they'd gotten as far in the system as they had. But, this was in the day of 'social promotion'. I was determined not to let these kids graduate without the basic skills of writing well, and as a result had them write several times a week. One day I assigned an essay: "Describe the Teacher Who Made the Biggest Difference in Your Life and Why?"

That evening I stacked up the usual pile of essays in my home office for the nightly ritual of grading and started in with my red pen. I did this ritual for almost twenty years every night, and over those many hours of reading what my students wrote for me, I was stopped more than once by the honesty and near perfection of putting thoughts into words guided by my objective demands for clarity, punctuation, and style. So many times my objectives were usurped by words on a page that relayed a story which negated my professorial aspirations and brought home to me a humanity that made a distinctly profound connection. One such essay did this to me.

Roy was a student in one of my basic classes. He was pitiful. He was nearly blind and was very slow. I think he managed to avoid special education classes simply because of his intense desire to be 'okay'. I read his essay and it took my breath away. He had worked hard on it, and there were few errors. But that was not what caught me. He described his third-grade teacher, and in the most devoted of words said that she was his favorite because she always allowed him extra time to finish his work. Because of this, he felt that she really cared and that her patience had compelled him to keep on working hard in school when giving up would have been the easier route. Roy's glasses were thick and he'd worn them since kindergarten, but seeing was still hard for him. This teacher, without making it obvious, made subtle accomodations for Roy's disabilities and encouraged him every day she had the pleasure of teaching him. The end of Roy's essay struck me hard: He finished by saying that Mrs. Coulter made him feel like a good person.

A 'good person'??! This spoke volumes, and some fifteen years later, when most of my students were writing essays about coaches,and recent high school teachers, Roy had remembered a teacher from his most tender years when educational success or failure is so often set in stone either by a caring individual or by one who lacks the compassion necessary to be an educator.

I was so moved by his story that I asked at school the next day who this teacher was and if she were still teaching. I found out she had quit teaching about five years before because she was fed up with the system. (I identified with that.) I did get her number and address and that night I called her and introduced myself. I told her about Roy's paper and soon enough we were both crying.  She remembered Roy and was delighted to know he had made it through to graduation. I mailed her a copy of the essay. She called me a few months later to tell me she had rejoined the teaching profession and thanked me for 'teaching' her the true beauty of this most wonderful and most difficult of professions. Again we cried and ended our conversation by acknowledging that in this case the student taught the teacher.

... Phoenix


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The link to Phoenix does not work ... but you can address her here.

PHX ... like I've said before, we need a lot more people like you.

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