Spoiler Alert: Good Wins Out Over Bad. My Best Teaching Memory
Sometimes the hardest things could be going on around you and you are feeling like it will never get better.
But, the universe has a way of showing you that in the midst of all that, there is still wonderful things happening around you.
That’s how I was feeling. I was discouraged by a student who had stolen my gradebook during the school day and went through and changed his individual grades to get himself to passing.
Anyone that knows me as a teacher, knows that I would do anything and try anything to help a student learn the math material. I will work with them one on one until they really, truly get it. I am stubborn that way. But, I want people to honestly give it their best shot. As with most things in life, you can accomplish almost anything if you put your mind to it and are willing to work as hard as you can. Good things always develop.
But this student, at this private Catholic school did not want to go through the work. I knew he was struggling and I’d offered him countless times to work with him on his schedule whenever he wanted. He never once took me up on it.
Now it was almost the end of the school year. So, he grabbed my gradebook (before computers were being used much) and changed his grades. The biology teacher next door over had seen him grab the gradebook and write in it. This teacher tipped me off.
So believing it completely unjust to GIVE yourself a grade and not earn it, I turned him into the principal.
What unveiled before me were parents unwilling to believe anyone but their son which then turned into a full attack on me as a teacher and off to tell other parents how horrible I was. I was in tears for days because of this, even contemplating quitting this job. If this is how I’m valued, maybe it wasn’t worth it.
The night before I was going to turn in my resignation over this, everything changed.
I got an email from a priest in Indonesia thanking me for all the correspondence. For the life of me, I didn’t know how he could have possibly known about me. Way before people were using email on any sort of regular basis, I had decided to email all my parents frequently to let them know how things were going, the good and the bad, but especially the good.
People need to hear good things they are doing and how they are progressing. This I knew in my heart.
But, for the life of me I couldn’t figure it out. I knew which student this was by the email address. I just didn’t know how a priest in Indonesia had gotten it. During my investigation stage, I got another email from the priest explaining everything.
Every time I sent out an email to this address it went to him, half a world away. He would print it out and go see the student’s mother who lived in this small village in Indonesia. The mother couldn’t read, so the priest would read each email to her.
This student was a very smart girl who worked very hard at her math. She had progressed at a breath-taking rate and was my top student in this math class. I was really proud of her, so I sent a lot of really nice emails detailing all her triumphs. She was an awesome kid.
This second email came with a special thank you from her mother. Her mother explained that her daughter was bi-racial. If she had stayed in Indonesia, the class system would have destined her to live in the poorest conditions.
So the mother made the hardest decision of her life and moved her beloved daughter to America for a better life. The mother was so thankful to me because although she couldn’t be with her daughter, she felt like she was still a part of her life with each email I sent.
I was keeping her connected with her child. Hearing how well her daughter was doing did her heart so much good that she would be weeping at the end of each email the priest read to her.
To say I was shell shocked would be an understatement. I was just trying to build in an organized way to stay in touch with the parents and it turned into something so vital and important to this mother.
So, I had a choice to make now. Would I let the student that stole something and gave himself something he didn’t deserve win or believe in the better good of my teaching by building people up and trying to make better math students and citizens.
The answer has been my 30 year teaching career. I’ll continue to help students realize their value and help them succeed to as far as they can possibly achieve. I’ll live with the bad things that happen, but rejoice exponentially more in the great things around me every day.
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