Up until now–4 months since I first set foot into a summer school classroom in Philly–I had not cried for any reason related to teaching (I cried tears of pain in the NYC Marathon Sunday). That changed today, when I received an email from BC, one of the brightest young minds, but also one of the most disruptive students, in my classroom.
To explain, after being completely frustrated with his attitude and his loquaciousness, I decided to email his parents. Immediately, his behavior changed. He came in yesterday to make up the midterm assessment that he had completely blown off. He ended up blowing the test out of the water, nearly acing it. I emailed his father again last night, relaying the news that he had scored the highest of all my students in all my periods.
BC came home today and apparently learned from his parents that he had been the highest scorer on the test. He sent me an email, which admittedly induced my first teaching-related tears (thankfully, in a positive way!):
Hello Mr. K, this is BC from your 2nd period class. I am writing to thank you for being such a active, appreciative, and respectful teacher. My parents have just told me that you emailed them and said I have the highest midterm of all my classmates! I would like to thank you for being in touch with my parents and not just saying negative things about me. Most teachers (most experienced teachers) like to only tell my folks that I talk in class and I’m never focused, but they never say the positive things about me. But you on the other hand, you tell the truth! Which is that I talk in class but I am an intelligent young man. And I appreciate that you’re not just putting me in the gutter with my parents. Mr. K I want you to know that you’ve earned my respect and you have become one of my favorite teachers. I will do my best to show you this respect in class and I will also do my best to try to get my classmates to respect you as well. For a young man of your caliber and the minimum amount of teaching experience, you have alot of maturity and togetherness. Despite the fact that you have students talking back, throwing books, cursing, and catching an attitude with you; you still maintain your composer and I look up to that. I know it’s hard to teach my class because of the countless disruptions from countless students but most of the students still do not take you serious because of your physical appearance which I know that your probably aware of. And I like the fact that you carry on with the lesson and forget about the immature students. I can already tell that you are a very intelligent man. And I think that you should try to be a college professor in a couple of years because you already have alot of wisdom and maturity. So I hope you have a wonderful school year and keep doing your best on trying to get us students a good future!
After reading an email like BC’s, I understand why I find teaching so rewarding (we’re covering inferences this week–I’ll let you infer, on your own, why this is the case).
I also think that there are two key takeaways:
- Every student is a diamond in the rough. Deep down, each student–no matter how problematic, no matter how disruptive, no matter how rebellious–has a side that wants to learn, if only a teacher will recognize it. It is a teacher’s duty to uncover and unlock this hidden potential.
- Communicating with parents works wonders. But, it is not enough just to communicate. Effective communication must occur: truths, of course, must reveal themselves; but positive words of encouragement and hope must accompany them.
Now, time to email the parents of a student who, today, after being frustrated with my lesson, completely disrespected not only me but also one of the newly donated books (given by a generous donor) by throwing it across the room. I can’t imagine that this exchange will turn out well, but it’s worth a shot.