This Wednesday, at the place where I live, the schools will dismiss for the summer. This is the column that will appear in the local paper that day.
a normal day. Nothing in the course of things would have given hint
of what was to come.
was providing the class with a review in preparation for the exam
that was scheduled for Monday. The student sitting in the fourth seat
back in the second row from windows was staring out them. He didn't
seem the least bit interested in what was going on in the classroom.
She called his name. He continued to stare. She called his name
again. He turned with a disinterested look on his face. She asked him
to please pay attention. He looked back out the window. She could
have disciplined him. She could have sent him out of the room. She
could have challenged him in a dozen different ways, but instinct,
born of years of experience whispered to to take it slow. As the
class ended and the others filed out she told him to wait. It was
during the after class talk he gushed out his despair at the things
happening at home. She listened. She supported. He went home, to the
same turmoil, but he went home knowing someone understood.
the hall a math class was plugging away at an accumulation of
problems that needed solving before the end of the period. The
teacher asked if the student was still having problems with what
they'd been working on last week. The student said she did. The
teacher smiled, walked to the desk at the front of the room and
returned. The student was handed a piece of paper with an internet
address on it. The student was told it was a site that was free but
where help was available with math assignments. The student smiled
and expressed thanks while tucking the address into a book bag.
another part of the school a teacher sat in the teacher's lounge, a
place designed to give the faculty a small respite from the stress of
the day. Here, in quiet, some coffee or other drink and a snack could
be consumed as they conversation was exchanged with peers. Today only
one teacher was there, not resting, not consuming, but plowing
through a pile of test papers, taking time to mark each one with
praise or words of encouragement.
through the day teachers are doing these kind of things, tasks not in
the lesson plan, tasks that don't show up on the principal's
evaluation, tasks that were not even considered when the decision was
made to teach.
when the day's over, there's bus duty, there are rooms to prepare for
the next day, and then there's the rush to get home in time to spend
a little time with the teacher's own kids before rushing back to the
interscholastic activities like the football game, the soccer game,
the chorus concert, the band concert, the school play.
weekend there are the trips to the store to purchase the classroom
supplies the board of education doesn't provide in the budget but
which are essential to teaching.
know, the really sad thing about teaching is not the extra things
listed above. The sad thing is not the pitiful salary or the long
hours or even the undeserved frustration. The sad thing about
education is that when classes are over for the year today, most of
us will not take the time to say, “Thank you for caring about my
here's the thing. I was pursuing the Huffington Post last week, and,
lo and behold, there was an article about my baby boy, the high
school English teacher.
kid has this crazy idea that even though the classroom has looked the
same since the eighteenth century there's no reason it should not
change. Basically, he putting forth the idea that education should
enter the 21st Century.
decide. Read the article. And be sure to click on the link reading “A
Revolutionary Classroom” contained in the article to see a video
with a virtual presentation of his ideas.
disclosure: The link also lets you contribute to making his ideas a
reality. But don't let that stop you form clicking the link. You can
help his a lot if you forward the article to someone you think might
be interested in his concepts.
Breaking his new commitment to retirement, the parson had traveled halfway across the state to speak at a civic club meeting. The exception to his rule was a response to the request of an old friend from high school. Now, the club meeting over, the parson walked with his friend Roger Gilbert across the high school football / soccer field. Roger had been anxious to show off the complex to the parson.
“Isn't it great?” said Roger.
“It's certainly impressive,” the parson responded. “Isn't this a little expensive, though?”
“Well, hell yes it's expensive, Parson. But over the years we'll save money. No more watering the field, no more cutting the grass, no more fertilizer, no more marking the field before every game. Eventually, it will pay for itself.”
“How long is eventually?” the parson asked.
“Well I don't know how long before the cost saving kicks in, Parson. It'll be a couple of years.”
“How much did it cost?”
“Well, the total cost, now, mind you this includes ground preparation, installation costs and some minor improvements to the stands, the cost was a little over a half million.”
“So, it's going to take more than a couple of years to recoup the cost?”
“Don't be a stick-in-the-mud, Parson. This field is not the envy of every school in this region. When visiting teams show up here they know we're serious about this sport.”
The parson and Roger had now exited her field and were walking toward their cars. Roger made his final point.
“Look back there, Parson,” he said, pointing to the field. “You have to admit that's an impressive sight.”
“It is, Roger; it is.”
“Well, I can't figure you out, Parson. You've played sports all your life. I'd think you'd be more responsive to our efforts here.”
“You know what would be really impressive, Roger, impressive not only to us used-to-be-jocks but to the entire population?”
“What?” asked Roger.
“It would really be impressive, Roger, if you guys would put this much effort into raising money to keep and recruit better teachers for your kids. Football for you and soccer for me lasted as long as our knees." The parson pointed to the classroom building a block down the street. "But the education, Roger, the education is forever.”
I was in your class for a while today, Ms. Massey. I would be remiss if I did not comment on what I saw.
It's interesting that you would make such an impact on me. We didn't even speak. In fact, the only communication was your motioning me and those with me into the class, and pointing to the child chairs upon which we were to sit. I was not long in that chair before I began to marvel at the choreography of learning and social adjustment going on before me.
I'm sorry I didn't quite catch on to that first exercise in which you were engaged with the kids. It was the one with the counting in rhythm with the music. Sorry, I do know how to count, but for some reason I couldn't tear my mind away from the drama before me to quite incorporate the activity into my amazement.
That was, as you know, my son sitting beside me, the son who is also a teacher, a high school teacher of advanced placement teens. I used to put him on the top of my list of educators I respect. Today, he may have fallen to that rung that is next to the top. You, Ms. Massey, are at the top. My son prepares one lesson plan that covers all the children in his classes of the same subject. It was apparent you prepare a plan for each individual child. And, more astounding, you're able to facilitate every child individually while engaging them as a whole in an activity.
I was really impressed when that child got a bit frustrated and you simply told her to press her hands together hard when she felt angry. She did and it was over. Wow. I may try that myself next time I'm in a church meeting.
There are not a lot of women, Ms. Massey, who are not above getting down on the floor on their belly to act out the motions of the worm of which the song was singing. There are not a lot of women in the world who can pull forth effort from kids of pre-school age with the ease and poise with which you do. And, most importantly, there are not a lot of people who can meet the challenges of those precious children with hope, determination, and constant reminders of their own dignity and sense of worth.
Why do you do it, Ms. Massey? What possessed you to depart from the world of the well behaved elementary child to enter into the challenge of teaching in the Special Needs Pre-K program? I doubt, in this world, you get any extra pay for it. And I know for sure the normal pay you receive is an insult to your education, your dedication and, especially, the love you have for those children.
I've become at my advance age, in many ways, Ms. Massey, a cynical old man. But today I became an old man pleased with the world and the people who occupy it. Sometimes, Ms. Massey, I'm a bit pleased with myself in that I've been able to do some good things for some people. But I will never hold a candle to you in what you do for those kids. I don't know if you're religious or not, Ms. Massey. I am, and I'm quite sure God is smiling down on you.
I'll put my head down on the pillow tonight and remember this day. All the things I encountered today, and all the things for many days in the past, will fade into insignificance compared to my encounter with you and those children whose lives will be forever made more whole because they gather around you every school day.
Well, that's it, Ms. Massey. Thank you for what you do. And thank you for doing it with such joy and grace. You are my hero. And if I had the power I'd have you declared a saint.
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