small successes

December 18, 2007

Today after school a student came to find me to ask me for help. Here’s what’s interesting; he’s not one of my students, and he didn’t want help with my subject. He’s met me at tutoring a couple of times where I helped him with history. Today he got particularly stuck trying to paraphrase a quote for English class he came looking for me.

We talked through it (“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy” is a lovely phrase, but REALLY HARD if English isn’t your first language) and he left with half his homework done.

I don’t know. It made me feel really good, so I thought I’d share.


true story

October 25, 2007

Once upon a time, a freshman in my class refused to do any of his work. When I gave him a sheet, he’d turn it over. When I called on him, he’d roll his eyes and put his head down. A couple of weeks in to the semester he raised his hand and bragged “Yo, I’m supposed to be in tenth grade anyway; I don’t have to do your work ’cause I won’t be in this class after tomorrow!”

“Sweetie,” I said, “you get one guess who’s teaching 10th grade, too.”

For the first semester of school, every time I called on him he’d whine and moan about how much he hated history and every other history teacher he’d had. He was super smart but didn’t hand any work in; he loved to participate but hated to write. He complained and complained and complained, but he got better, and eventually he got a 78 on the Regents.

Tonight,  despite the fact that he doesn’t attend the school I currently work at, he showed up for parent-teacher conferences. He gave me a big hug. He’d figured out where I was and when I’d be there, and he’d brought messages from lots of kids I used to teach. When I had a break between parents he told me about his grades this year and promised to work harder next marking period. We talked about college. He listened to me talking to to the freshmen about doing better and stopped them on their way out. “You’re giving her a hard time? She’s awesome. I was just like you last year, dude. She makes you work, and it sucks. But she’s the best teacher ever. I miss you, miss!”

I didn’t cry. It was a near thing, but I didn’t cry. I made him promise to send me his grades next marking period, too, so that I could see them going up, and I sent messages back to the kids I left behind. Then I hugged him again and sent him home.

Then I cried. Just a little.

Anyway, if anyone ever asks, that’s why I teach.


update

September 2, 2007

I got a phone call yesterday. It’s move-in day for freshman at college, and the student I taught Japanese to last year called me. “I’m moving in, miss! It’s crazy! I already bought my books and stuff, but it took us an hour to get from the highway to my dorm! Can you believe it? I’m gonna call you again after my first Japanese class. Miss! This is crazy!”

I got sniffly, I admit. It’s hard not to.


graduation story

June 22, 2007

Today was graduation. I teach 10th graders, so the seniors are nice kids I see in the hallway and sometimes tutor for the Regents, but not the kids I’d cry over. Except one.

I don’t remember how he learned that I speak Japanese, but sometime last year he asked if I would teach him. I was pleased (a chance to use something I really enjoy!) but skeptical (these kids don’t even show up for tutoring when the test means the difference between graduating or not graduating).

He showed up twice a week, every week, for the next two years. He learned two alphabets, all the colors, tons of nouns, verbs in the present and past tense, and conversations ranging from “How many books do you read a week?” to “Last night there was a loud party in Shinjuku; did you go?”

His parents weren’t thrilled. Japanese, his mother told me at parent-teacher conferences last winter, would not get him a job. Spanish would. And his grades in Spanish weren’t fabulous. I told her I would talk to her son about his academics, but if he wanted to learn Japanese in addition to his regular course load then I supported him. Kids should be allowed to study the things that interest them. I would have killed to learn Japanese in high school.

Two months ago he told me he’d been accepted to college with a scholarship, and that he’d be studying Japanese there. He’d already gotten email from his new Japanese professor. And he’d be studying abroad. It was required.

Last week I brought all kinds of Japanese junk food to school and we had a picnic in my classroom. He kept the bottle of Pocari Sweat to show his classmates. He was ecstatic.

Today, at graduation, his mother came up to me. “Are you Ms. A?” she asked. I said I was. “Oh, thank god. You’re the reason he’s going to college. You’re the reason he’s going to school to study Japanese. And you never charged him for the lessons or anything! My mother wants to meet you. So does his uncle. So does his cousin.” They took pictures. I was hugged by grandparents. Uncles and cousins and nephews all promised me that he’d email and let me know how college was going. I cried a little bit.

He hugged me — he’s about 6’6″, maybe 250 pounds. He lifted me clear off the ground. “I don’t know how to thank you, Miss,” he said. “I don’t know in English or Japanese.”

And I don’t know how to tell him that this is the story that will keep me teaching on days when I hate the students and I feel useless and angry, or on days when I find out one of them is pregnant and kicked out of the house, or on days when I have to tell a senior she can’t walk at graduation because she failed the Regents by two points.

Thank you.


they really, really can’t spell

June 21, 2007

HEY MS. —– THE BEST GLOBAL TEACHER AND TEACHER IN GENERAL THAT I EVER HAD!! OMGG MISZ IMA MISS U SOO MUCH!!! ITS GONNA B SO BORING AND DIFFERENT WITH OUT YOU NEXT YEARR!!! OMGG…WELL I WISH  you THE BEST IN THE NEW SCHOOL YOURE GOING TO TEACH NEXT YEAR! && I HOPE U WONT FORGET ME OFCOURSE! LOL =]…BUT IM JUS WRITING TO TELL U WHAT I JUS TOLD U && FOR MY CHEESY PICTURE THAT YOU TOOK OF ME IN CLASS TODAY! =]… && WISH ME LUCK FOR TOMORROW!!

LOVE UR BEST GLOBAL 4TH PD STUDENT**

[Sic] clearly.

PS — She got a 65. 🙂


a letter from Andrew

June 11, 2007

I just received this email:

Thank u Ms. A For ur letter I appreciate it…. You are one of the best teachers or the best teacher I ever had. I am definitely going to miss you. But I know it is part of life and I got to move on but honestly I learn a lot these last few years and u are simply amazing. You are very smart and other kids will be lucky or even honored to have u as a teacher. You will make a greaat teacher else where. You may be gone but u will not be forgotten Ms. A. Thank u for making Global History fun and exciting!!

Um. I am totally not crying. At all. Stupid last days of school.


nclb and basketball

May 23, 2007

Student-teacher basketball day! It is always — as my dad would say — a hoot and a half. Only three teachers actually participate, but the kids have such a good time, and it’s so rewarding to see them enjoying themselves. I thought the same thing this time last year; student D is super annoying, but it turns out he can dunk like *whoa* and it’s important to remember that he’s more than just the kid who doesn’t read well in my class. If only there were more chances (see also: why small schools are probably  not the Solution To All Our Woes In Education).

Speaking of which, the Secretary of Education was on the  Daily Show last night. She seemed nice. She talked a lot about how NCLB should be renewed and how if she could change anything it would be “low expectations.” Yes, apparently if we just DEMAND that students be able to read, and then test them, they will be able to read! The problem with the students I teach is that no one has ever held them to the standard of reading on grade level. On the one hand, we’re Not Leaving Them Behind, so we’d better not fail them. On the other hand, we can’t let them slide by until they can read. It all makes sense now! No wonder it’s been such a rousing success so far!