It’s a tough time to be a teacher.
Actually, with all of this crazy testing and the advent of the state report cards, it’s a tough time to be a student, a parent, an administrator, a community. It’s discouraging. With so many F’s splashed across the front pages, doesn’t one have to ask if there is something wrong with the tests? I know if that had been the case in my classroom, it’s what I would have surmised.
I don’t think teaching is about the tests. My colleague Kurt Russell and I always remarked when things got administratively crazy that, “It’s about the kids.” It still should be. Take the term “Common Core.” Back a decade or so when I was teaching, we talked about multiple intelligences because kids are anything but common. Each is unique with preferred learning styles and differing ways for excelling in showing what has been learned, but that appears to be out the window.
One of my early students at Oberlin High School was a nice young man who sat in the back, continually chastising himself because he was not a good test-taker. He felt like a failure. Into his life came the Lorain County JVS, where his hands-on learning in a field of great interest found him winning statewide competitions. He came back to see me. He actually seemed taller and spoke about his accomplishments with great pride.
Anyway, teachers, take heart. Educational practices are like a huge pendulum. It may take time, but this too will pass. Keep the focus. It’s really about the kids. It’s about helping them find and use their potential. Being student-centered has its definite perks.
Besides teaching at Oberlin High School, I spent 13 years teaching English at the JVS. One young man came to us as a “last chance Charlie.” He’d been in so much trouble in his home school that they had kicked him out. If he didn’t make it at the JVS, it’d be the streets. For some reason we hit it off.
Though he wasn’t what I would call a terrific English student, he proudly completed a long research project. The day that it was due he was late, but came into class with five minutes to go, slapped it down on the pile of student papers, and got applause from the rest of the class. To this day he calls me on Mother’s Day to chat. After two tours in Iraq he enrolled in college and called to announce that he had a 4-point average and was praised for his research papers.
Another young man was a lot of fun his junior year, but something happened to derail him during his senior year. He was late all the time, disrespectful, and slept in class, so I took him into the hall and ripped into him, reminding him that he had potential, that he had shown himself to be positive and productive. I asked why he was willing to throw all of that away.
The rest of the year he was sullen and withdrawn, but on time and awake. I kid you not, about 10 years later the phone rang and it was “Jim” calling to tell me that he finally understood what I had said in the hallway that day and he thanked me for doing my best to set him straight. He assured me he’d walk the straight and narrow from that day on! (It seems sometimes the payoff is somewhat delayed!)
I was never a teacher to remove kids from class, with only a few exceptions. One of those was a particularly spunky freshman who constantly disrupted class. The first day of his sophomore year, he turned up in drama class. I just pointed to the door and he went to the office. On day two he decided to try the drama exercises we were doing and he was a natural. Because of his success there, he changed completely, settled down, became a good student, and by the time he went to college he wrote to me often and we are in touch to this day.
Finally, a different kind of success for me — there was a particular young man who was a staple of the drama program during my tenure. I met him first when he was a freshman. I have had the pleasure or working with him as an actor in five different productions once he reached his twenties. He recently told me that people ask where he studied acting. He didn’t — at least not beyond high school — but he is amazing and versatile and a joy to work with.
I always told people that it is a real gift to be a teacher. It is one vocation where one can truly make a difference in the lives of others. I hold firmly to that conviction. Room only permitted a few very short stories above, but I have 35 years worth of stories to look back on during my years of retirement.
It is truly about the kids. I know Mr. Russell and many others continue to feel and practice that very philosophy.
So, teachers, whenever those ridiculous tests get you down, look around the room at the kids, no matter the grade level, and know what and who really count.
Pat Gorske Price graduated from Oberlin High School and taught English and drama there for 12 years. In retirement she continues to enjoy writing and theater. Comments can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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