Kids Make Me Smile

To celebrate my long-awaited Spring Break, I thought I would talk about two specific times when I could actually feel the Teacher Crown on my head, like I had just won the Teach America Pageant, and I was fixing to take the Winner's Walk down the runway.

Event 1:
I was teaching 11th grade English to a group of underachievers. They were not in the college prep class, and had evidently taken that to mean that they could do nothing and get by with it. Man, I hate that!

I had a real struggle with them, because it's not really in my nature to underachieve; I like to be the best, always. Also, they were some of the mouthiest teenagers ever to walk the face of this earth, and that is saying a LOT.

Like most English teachers, I was both shocked and appalled when none of these students could identify the parts of speech in a sentence; in fact, most of them could not tell me which words were nouns (NOUNS! Person, place, thing, or idea! IT'S THE EASIEST ONE!) So we had to spend a looooong time talking about parts of speech, and I got frustrated and they got frustrated, and we all just had a really really bad time.

One day, the girl with whom I'd had the most trouble--"Why do we gotta know this stuff anyway? We was just fine without knowin' it beforehand!"--said to me, "Ms. Flower, I never understood the difference between an adverb and an adjective before, but you really taught me how to do this."

I almost burst into tears right there.

Event 2:
This happened last week.

I have a student who is fairly bright when he wants to be, but his problem is that he doesn't always want to be. He realized, on his own, that he was falling behind in class; OF HIS OWN VOLITION, he asked if he could come to after-school tutoring and make up some of his work (I emphasize this because it happens so rarely).

Even though he made up all of his missing work, he asked if he could also do some extra credit. I don't give extra credit, usually, but he asked if he could read a book and then write a book report about it. I'm never gonna tell a kid not to read, so I told him that would be all right with me, but that he would still have to keep up with the rest of his work, that I wouldn't give him any credit at all if he slacked off his regular classroom duties. We had our agreement in place, and he's kept up his end of the bargain, even changing his behavior in class to the extent that he has changed his seat so that he is not tempted to goof off with his friends (amazing!).

Last week he came to me with his book report. As he handed it to me, he said, "Ms. Flower, this is the first book I've read in my life."

You could have knocked me down with a feather--this child is in the 9th grade! The first time I read a book I was three years old and I have not been without one since!

I swallowed my astonishment and said, "That's great, Student! And how did you like the book?" And do you know, that precious baby gave me one of the most enthusiastic reviews of a book I have ever heard? I said, "Well, I hope you intend to keep reading, now that you've gotten off to such a good start." And guess what happened next: HE ASKED IF HE COULD GO TO THE LIBRARY AND GET A NEW BOOK.

That's not all, either. I had him in class two days later, and I overheard him talking to someone else. "I just read a book. It's the first time I ever read one. It was good, too."

I mean, when a kid is so excited about the fact that he's read a book, he's still talking about it two days later? Tell me that doesn't make your heart go pitty-pat.


On the days when I feel like quitting, when I think that those kids really ARE going to send me to an institution, I revisit moments like these and I find my inspiration again. Because we teachers, we don't get a lot of compensation, whether monetary or emotional, but when a student really, really learns something, or recognizes how far she's come, or for goodness' sake is just excited that he's read a book, that can carry us through our entire careers.

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