We just finished the second week of the 2015-2016 school year. Classes have started well, but I have an easy job as a high school teacher. (I wonder how often you hear that?) I teach three sections of Pre-Calculus and three sections of Pre-AP Pre-Calculus. Primarily have Juniors and Seniors with a few Sophomores sprinkled in there to keep things interesting.
In those first two weeks I’ve already had some pretty amazing things happen.
- Several kids I had in my Pre-AP Algebra II class last year obviously got another teacher this year. Several of them have made a point to come by my room – sometimes for help with what they are covering and sometimes just to say hello.
- One of those kids moved here from China about 6 years ago. Brilliant kid but very shy, perhaps at least partially due to his fairly thick accent. He brought an essay that he wrote for his English class that he also plans to use as a basis for some college essays. It was one of the most honest, authentic pieces of writing I have ever read in my life. Couldn’t believe that he shared it with me. Very nearly brought me to tears.
- Several kids I had for Pre-AP Pre-Calc last year have come to me for some help with their AP Calculus homework.
- Had a kid come up to me at the beginning of class today with a form that would allow him to switch from a Pre-AP class down to a regular section. I asked him why he wanted to change and he said that he was already struggling to understand the material. Told him I’d have to call his mom or dad to discuss before I signed it. He nodded and went to his seat to start the short quiz we were doing. As is my custom on Fridays, this ‘quiz’ is really just a checkpoint to give the kids some instant feedback on where they stand. I will openly help them get started on a problem but I will not write anything for them nor will I actually give an answer (though I may help with notation or the like at the end). As I tell the kids, it’s not a ‘gotcha’ thing – it’s an understanding thing. He raised his hand for help with the first question, we talked about the examples that we did over the last couple days and off he went. Came back a bit later to see that he got the first question right and was starting the next one. While he got a little careless with a sign on that problem, his process was good and as soon as he saw his mistake the rest of that problem went smoothly. And had something of a grin on his face with the validation of his process. We then had a brief discussion that went something like this:
Me: Did I start yelling at you or get upset when you needed a little help to get started?
Me: If you are willing to let me know when you need help and maybe come to tutoring once in a while I think you can do this. Not saying it’ll easy – but if you work your rear end off you’ll be fine.
Him: I’m going to stay here. You can throw that form away.
Emailed him a bit later to say I was still going to call his mom to let her know about his decision and what lead up to it. He replied back saying ‘thanks for believing in me.’
I said above that I have an easy job – and I’m sticking by that. I work long hours – probably average ~11 hours at school each day. I have a stack of papers about an inch thick to grade over the weekend. Have to do lesson plans sometime before Sunday evening. Lots of paperwork and dealing with kids missing class due to athletics or field trips. But all of that is just the stuff I have to do to have those one-on-one interactions with the kids that I absolutely treasure. I’ve been blessed to have so many of those interactions in the last eight years as an educator, and even more blessed to have stayed in contact with many of my students from those years.
At two weeks into my ninth year in this career, my only hope is the same it has been since that day in late August 2007 when I first walked into a classroom for the first time – I just want to make an impact. I think I have made a difference – I want to make more of a difference.
I love my job.