Thursday, February 18, 2010

Happy Teacher Betty

Every teacher knows those dark days: days when no one in class seems to care, days when you find yourself repeating the same thing you said the last fourteen days, and days when you sit, surrounded in your office by papers filled with the very errors you've been railing about and correcting in class. You sit, your head upon your desk unable to move the grading pen any longer. There are truly days when you feel like you have very little to show for all your effort. Is anyone listening? Does anyone care? Are you making any difference at all? Sometimes in those dark days you lose your direction, can't seem to find your bearings.

Don't get me wrong. Those days happen infrequently. I love my job of teaching English at the local community college AND today was on the opposite end of the spectrum.

About four years ago I had a student named Jose in my class. He was a bit older than most of my 19-22 year old students. He sat in the front row and was quiet during most of the class. In his introductory essay he wrote that he had gotten out of prison not too long ago (drug charges), was taking one or two college classes for the time being, but expected to take over his friend's painting business one day.

He was a good writer and an interesting person. Call it a teacher's sixth sense, but I knew there was more to him--more in there waiting to be developed. I asked him to walk me back to my office one day and asked him what his plans were. That's when we told me about the painting business again. I asked if he had ever thought about transferring to a university. He laughed at me like I was totally out of my mind. "Nah," he said, shaking his head. "Nah. I'm just here to do a few classes then that's it. "Well, think about it," I said. "I really think you could do it."

He finished my class and took the next one in the sequence. By this time, he was hooked on learning and I could tell he was starting to see himself in a different light.

Well, guess who showed up at my office door today? It was Jose, looking healthy and happy and wearing a polo shirt with the name of the nearby university on it. He had a name tag on and under his name read "Transfer Center." He had indeed transferred, was nearly done with his degree and was now working to recruit students to the university.

We chatted about his degree and then he said, "I give you all the credit. I still remember that talk we had when you asked me about transferring. I went to my counselor that afternoon and started talking about the possibility. If you hadn't brought it up in the first place, I'm not sure where I'd be right now."

We continued to talk about his classes, his experiences and what was going on in his life. Just as he was about to leave, I asked him what his plans after graduation were.

"Going to grad school?" I asked.

"You know, I think I am," he said. "In fact, I'm sure I am."

I smiled and he stuck out his hand. "Thanks again."

I shook my head, "No, thank you," I said, ignoring the hand and going for a hug instead.

Teachers can live on this kind of stuff for years. Really, we can.

Jose was giving me far too much credit. He was the one who did all the work, struggled through all the tough classes, and scrambled to pay for it all as well. He gave me a great present today by coming by to say thanks.

When those dark days do hit and I feel like I am not making a difference, I'll look through that darkness and see a little of the brightness Jose brought to my office today. Then, I'll pick up that pen and grade those papers, and plan those lectures, and remember that I'm headed in the right direction after all.


Laurie said...

(tears in my eyes)

I keep talking about finding my bliss BB ....I hope fervently that I can write a story like this some day and when I do, I know I will have found it.

You have made a difference in one person's life (I'm sure there are many more).

You rock BB ....

(tears still in eyes)

Sara said...

(maybe I'm hormonal, but) This totally made me cry! Congrats for touching someone's life in such an amazing way! Warm fuzzies galore!

LoisW said...

Wonderful story and perfect timing. Yesterday I accepted a tutoring job at a local primary school. There is hope for all!!

BNM said...

awww what a great post.. i got a lil misty eyed!!

Lazy Pineapple said...

This is wonderful...sometimes you just need a push from someone in the right direction and you were there to give that push to Jose.

I am glad that Jose has not forgotten that it was you who gave him confidence.

Unknown said...

Ah, I know how good this feels. It's the kind of thing that makes it all worthwhile. Bravo, Betty, for making a difference. (Maybe we should run this one in the Spring edition of PostSCWriP?)

Susan said...

Thanks for the inspiring story! Times are tough for community colleges right now, but there is a reason to continue and you have highlighted that here. I needed this story this week! Thanks, BB!

Yum Yucky said...

What an awesome story! Yes. I'm a little teary-eyed. Pass the Kleenex, please!

Bossy Betty said...

Cynthia-You bet!

Caffeine Court said...

Never doubt that you ARE making a difference! Keep up the amazing work.

Gina said...

That is an AMAZING story!! I have a teaching certification, but we have yet to be in one place long enough for it to work. Hopefully I'll get myself back into a classroom soon.

Anonymous said...

What a heart warming story. I enjoyed reading it.

Shan said...

Isn't it amazing what a little trust and encouragement can do for a person's life? Way to go, Betty!

Until almost a year ago I taught a class. I'd done it for 13 years. Sometimes I still hear from people who want to catch me up on what they've done. The stories aren't as dramatic as yours, but I get those fabulous feelings all the same.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this story. I know EXACTLY you feel when those days get you down. I had a student send me an email after to class to tell me to keep going with a smile and laughter no matter how students respond because it made a difference to him. It was inspiring and I certainly remembered it today.