Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Did You Really Mean It?

The first couple of years I was teaching, it seemed that all I could do was keep my head above water from week to week. I poured over teacher guides for text books, ran to our central agency for information and worksheets, plotted my two hour class time down to nth degree, made extensive notes so I wouldn’t forget a single thing, packed my school bag, and did it all over again!

Fortunately, in those early years, I had very small classes and things went fairly smoothly.

By my third or fourth year, my classes were getting bigger as the synagogue and school were growing. And, as always happens, things – relationships – became more complex.

One year, my class and I just seemed to start off on the wrong foot. It was more kids than I’d ever taught before – I think we were up to twelve at that point. Some of the kids had special needs. Some of them were children of prominent members of the community. And – horror of horrors! – some of them were more interested in what their friend had to say than what I had to say!

I came home that first week almost in tears, and began complaining to my husband, son and daughter what a rotten class I’d gotten that year. They listened (or actually, probably didn’t listen) as I ranted and raved. Finally, my daughter looked up at me and said firmly, “Mom.”

“What?” I muttered, mumbling something unkind under my breath.

“Mom,” she said again firmly.

I looked at her. “What?”

“You know how you always say that there’s some good in everybody?”

“Yeah,” I responded suspiciously.

“Well, I want you to tell me one good thing about each of your students.”

I tried to laugh her off, but she was fixed on her goal. “Did you really mean it when you said everyone has something good in them?” she pushed, “or were you just saying that?” (I swear I heard someone whisper: “Busted.”)

To make a long story short, I was able to come with “something good” about all of the kids – except two. Then Miss Put-Your-Money-Where-Your-Mouth-Is gave me my assignment for the week: “Next week when you come home from school I want you to tell me something good about those two kids, too.”

And darned if that wasn’t the first thing she asked when I got home from school the following week.

A funny thing happened after that. As I began to look for something positive in each of my students, they became less obnoxious, more interesting, and more interested.

We ended up having a good year, that year – my kids and I. Thanks to someone who believed in making an honest teacher out of me.

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