the Extra Mile by Suzanne Erle
"All year I had pushed my students to 'go the extra mile'... I knew that some students did not receive these words favorably; after all, it simply boiled down to meaning more work.... Right now I don't care whether they learned their grammar lessons or their literary terms; this message was a life lesson...." read it all
|The New Kid
by Stacy Blodget
" I remember vividly my principal coming to tell me I would be getting a new student who was placed into the foster care of a family in our district.…he had never attended a single day of school before, he didn’t know his letters or
|The New Teacher ...
by Larriean Comis
"This was my first open house and I needed advice from the
veterans. Will many parents show up? Should I prepare a speech? How long
should my presentation be? The answers were no, no and don’t worry about
it....How could they have been so wrong?"
|Judy Davis on
coping with a student's death
"...The organist is warming up. Snatches of hymns
float into the emptiness, and then die away. I sit down next to Rose. She
on judging a student's gifts
"... when I read Edward's poem I was stunned by the beauty of the language. The subject was insightful, the writing powerful..... However, rather than feeling blessed to be reading the work of such an obvious talent, I concluded that the poem was not his...." read it all
|The New Kid
by Stacy Blodget
Although this experience occurred within the realm of teaching, it actually should be classified as a significant life event. I will never forget my first year teaching, and especially a student who joined my classroom in October of that school year, Cruz.
how to write his name, or any skills even the most limited fourth grader generally knows, the more apprehensive I became.
That night I went home and thought, “Why is he being placed in my classroom?” and “What am I going to do with him when I have 20 other students also needing my attention?”
The next morning I got to school early to prepare for Cruz’s arrival. He arrived about 10 minutes before the other children. I can remember watching him look around the room in awe of what he saw before his eyes. It was as though this city boy with more “street smarts” than most adults was realizing this was a place where he could come and be a child, an opportunity he had never had before.
Immediately at that point, my worries faded from worrying about Cruz academically to focusing my attention on making Cruz’s life a happy place and making him realize how special he in fact was.
As the school year progressed, so did the bond Cruz and I shared. He admired me, but not nearly as much as I admired him. He was determined to learn, and in fact was a very bright boy who had never been afforded the opportunity to learn. He practiced his letters, numbers, and name writing hundreds if not thousands of times each day. He mastered letter and number recognition within a week and letter – sound correlation within a month. When he left me at the end of the school year, he was able to read and perform math on a second grade level. But, most of all, he had the opportunity to be in an environment where he knew I loved him, the kids admired him, and he felt wonderful about himself.
Although Cruz is now in 9th grade at another school, I still receive letters from him updating me on how his life is going. Learning that school is about a whole lot more than what academic subject matter I can give to my students was a significant life event
for me because I now invest time and effort into each school year on all my students making sure each and everyone develops feelings of worth.
top of page
I remember thinking that the oxygen must have leaked from the room. Why else would it be so hard to breath? For a chilly November evening, room 111 was unusually warm and stuffy. My mind was racing and the more my inner voice told me to stay calm and concentrate, the more out of control my thoughts spun. Why do these things always happen to me?
It was not as if the year had started out with a bang. Teaching middle school English/Reading was proving not to be what I had dreamed of. As a matter of fact, the majority of the time it downright sucked. The students were much smarter and worldlier than I was. Quite frankly, the world was their oyster and the majority of them had already, at the tender age of thirteen, harvested the pearl. They were as bored with the canned reading program as I was. Thirty-one adolescents, seventh period each day, was definitely not a good thing. But since this was my first teaching job, what I had worked so hard for, I was determined to make it work. This would be a success, even if it killed me.
By mid September I had a firm grasp on the tools of survival. A series of quick mini lessons each followed by a pencil and paper activity would keep the natives busy. And busy natives didn’t have a whole lot of time to rock the jungle. And, as we all know, administrators appreciate a quiet jungle. Success, maybe not, but survival, YES!
Just two days ago, I had walked down to the basement of our pre-civil war building and visited the teacher’s room. I hadn’t frequented this place much mostly because I considered it a health hazard. In the back right corner of the room an ancient ditto machine stood, like a statue erected to those educators who have gone before us. Ironically, this antique was not tired and ready to retire. She remained determined and gave off an aroma that I honestly believe some of my colleagues fancied. I, on the other hand, could only think on the big C (cancer). There had to be some sort of health code violation, but I was desperate. This was my first open house and I needed advice from the veterans. Will many parents show up? Should I prepare a speech? How long should my presentation be? The answers were no, no and don’t worry about it. I’d be lucky to get a handful of parents all night. I should probably bring a book, I’d need it.
Sixty-eight. Sixty-eight anxious eyes piercing a hole through my skull.
How could this have happened? Why is this happening to me? What am I going to
possibly do? I think they can hear my heart beating. They say to never let them
see you sweat; I’m thinking that they can see my sweat. I swear I’m getting
dizzy. The overhead fluorescent lights seem to be dancing. Dancing and laughing.
“How could you be so stupid and unprepared? Ha Ha Ha.”
As I enter the sanctuary, I am chilled to my very center. I
decide to leave my coat on. The teachers on my team have planned to arrive
early, in case some students do. The organist is warming up. Snatches of hymns
float into the emptiness, and then die away. I sit down next to Rose. She is
shivering. She smiles, but it splinters at the edges. Students begin to arrive,
in pairs and trios. Many are holding each other's hands. Several boys sport
baseball caps, defiantly backwards. A few arrive with parents, marching bravely
in the lead. The aromas of bubble gum and Tommy Girl mingle with the cloying
scent of flowers. The place hums now with nervous conversation, which the organ
prelude soon overrides. The sanctuary is warmer now, but when I reach for Rose's
hand it is as cold as mine. My breath catches as the casket containing our
student is carried up the aisle.
|Barb Reardon on judging a student's gifts: I
remember talking with Edward. Sitting between us, on the desk in the back of the
classroom, was Edward's poetry paper. The sun was beating warmly on our backs as
I faced the somewhat pudgy seventh grader. It was my first teaching assignment.
I was interning at West Middle School, and Edward was one of my students. His
poem had been a response to a homework assignment. "Write a poem describing
an emotional experience. Use sensory language," I instructed.
Later, when I read Edward's poem I was stunned by the beauty of the language. The subject was insightful, the writing powerful. In his work he told of his grandmother's occasional visits, and how these visits upset his surroundings. Edward described how his mother would rearrange the furniture, making him feel like a stranger in his own home. However, rather than feeling blessed to be reading the work of such an obvious talent, I concluded that the poem was not his. Edward had copied the work from a published source. How else could this quiet, unassuming young man have written such an eloquent piece? I had other teachers read the work as well. Each one felt the poem was exceptionally executed and thought that I had some reason for doubt.
Now, what was the right thing to do for my student? It seemed apparent that he had stolen the words in order to get a good grade, but that was no excuse! Finally I determined that the best way to help Edward was to take him aside and discuss the seriousness of his act. Of course, I would have to give him a failing grade, and the situation would be uncomfortable for both of us, but wasn't that a part of my job? Wasn't it best to set him straight so he would not plagiarize in the future?
And so I confronted him. I will never forget the look of sincerity on Edward's face as I hesitatingly asked questions about how he chose his topic, or if he had written any other poems in the past. "Your poem is exceptionally good." I told him. "Are these truly your feelings?" I asked. Looking back Edward must have guessed the reason for my probing, if so, he never let on. Quietly he responded, "Yes, those are my words and my thoughts."
Looking at his face at that moment, I knew that I had been wrong. Edward was truly a gifted young writer and I had had the honor of having him in my class! Quickly I ended our session and thanked him for coming in to speak with me. However, true closure would be much harder to receive.
I often wonder what became of Edward. I think back on that time, eight years ago and I am ashamed to have made such a wrongful assumption; I am embarrassed by my self-righteousness. I pray that Edward is writing still and that he has somehow forgiven my ignorance.
This experience has helped me to become a more thoughtful and understanding teacher. Each time I address a student, I am aware of the power that my words and actions hold. I've chosen to use this influence to build encouragement and trust. I am grateful that this experience occurred early in my career, it has made me a better educator and person.
[top of page]
I remember the last day of English class this past year. My room was
sweltering, the fan vibrating noisily, the students displaying animated faces in
knowing the year was quickly coming to a close. It was a bittersweet moment: I
was not quite ready to say goodbye, yet it was time.
web editor of DianeGallo.com is Mary Ann Ronconi of ForPR, www.ForPR.net