Friday, January 30, 2009

How Teachers Get Paid....

An extraordinary thing happened to me yesterday.  At around eleven o'clock in the morning the phone rang and on the other end was a student that had been in my fifth grade classroom in the late 1950s....fifty years ago.  Extraordinary.  He has phoned a few times over the years and I was sure he had forgotten me by this time.

Teachers have a strange job.  As a teacher you work with students, sometimes struggle to get them to understand something but at other times you just assist them with the daily assignments never realizing that at that precise moment you as the teacher are making a difference in that life.  Yes, mothers and dads are terribly important and so are other members of the family.  But a teacher is outside that circle and quite often doesn't even know when she/he has touched some student.

But there is another characteristic of teaching is that your students leave--most never come back to say "hi".  You get Charles to understand how to do algebra in which you spent hours thinking of other ways to explain it to him and after that year, he leaves.  It doesn't hurt but there is an ache at times.  Teachers have a strong feeling for their students.  They want them to be successful, to be true  to themselves.  So when they leave a piece of you leaves as well. But here is an important point, I believe.  While we have this strong desire to help our students we also don't want them depending upon us.  We want them to learn.  So when they do leave at the end of the school year, you wish them well but are still sad to see them go.

So a phone call yesterday was extraordinary to me--only word I can think of.  Bobby (not real names) said he still remembers a extra assignment that I gave him that he didn't finish.  Something about the Merrimack and the Monitor.  I don't remember.  Did I give extra assignments to good students?  Apparently.  He also remembers me taking the class to the gym to play Dodge Ball.  That I remember.  It was a good game in which half the class was on one side of the gym and the other half the other side and you threw large soft balls trying to hit someone on the other side.  It was a good game to tire the kids out and it allowed for those that were not athletic to participate as well and feel successful.  I like things that kids can feel successful about and you'll hear me say this time after time--success breeds success.  Probably another blog on this theme sometime later.

Bobby (Bob?) also remembers a new kid coming into the classroom.  Being in the lower end of the middle class area we had a lot of kids that would join the class after the school year had started and also some of the children would leave.  I quickly learned not to erase their names in my ever important grade book as some of them would also come back.  Life for the family wasn't any better wherever they went and so they would come back to "grandma's place."  

Jack, the new student, was bright but because he joined the class after the school year had started I was concerned about how he would make friends.  My task was to formulate a method so that would take place.  So we did an old parlor trick I had learned--mental thinking.  After getting Jack to agree, I talked to the class and explained that because Jack and I had bumped heads on the playground, we found out we could "read" each other's thoughts, not on everything but on simple things.  Of course the class was dubious--fifth graders are very wary of something like this.  So I said that Jack and I would demonstrate--it really depended upon radio waves not interfering.  I was leading the class on....  I finally sent Jack and another student outside so they couldn't hear our discussion in the classroom.  I then asked the class to decide on a city that I would think of and that Jack would "discover."  I don't remember which city they picked--we'll say Denver for this illustration.  We brought Jack and the classmate back into the room.  Asking the classmate, could you hear anything that we had said?  "No, not a thing."  Okay then.  Jack, you stand there with your back to me and I will stand here with my back to you so we can't give any visual signals.  Ready?

Is it Seattle?  Nope, came the reply.  Is it Portland?  No.  Is it Chicago?  No, not that one.  Is it New York?  No, not New York.  Is it Denver?  Long pause and, "yes!, that's the one."  The class was in shock.  Disbelief.  We cheated they said.  So we did once again--different city of course.  And again, Jack was able to pick the city that the class had secretively selected.  The students were beside themselves.  I remember they put blind folds on both Jack and me thinking our eyes had something to do with it.  

We never told the class the key to this little game--the city after the city that had a two word name like New York, San Francisco, St. Louis, was the correct answer.  Jack never told anyone but he had lots of friends from that date on.  Bobby, my long ago student said it took him several years to figure out our stunt.  It was this type of activity that had intrigued him and made him look forward to coming to school.  Strange how we keep the kids attention between the learning activities.

I don't think Bobby will ever know what his phone call to me yesterday meant.  I walked around on cloud nine most of the day.  One of my student's had remembered and I had made a difference, however slight.  He remembered me after about fifty years.  This is how teachers are paid.  So if you have some time today and you know where one of your former teachers now lives, give a call and say, "I remember and thank you for all you did for me."  

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