A FELLOW teacher posted this story and I thought it was too good not to share. It goes this way:
A third grade boy had won a medal as the best reader in class. Puffed with pride, he boasted to the maid at home, "Let's see if you can read as well as I can, Nora." The good woman took the book, looked at it closely, and finally stammered, "Why, Billy, I don't know how to read."
Proud as a peacock, the little fellow ran into the living room and fairly shouted to his father, "Dad, Nora doesn't know how to read and I - only eight years old - got a medal for reading. I wonder how she feels; looking at a book she cannot read."
Without a word, his father went over to the bookshelf, took down a volume, and handed it to the boy, saying, "She feels like this."
The book was in Spanish and Billy could not read a line of it. The boy never forgot that lesson. Whenever he feels like boasting, he reminds himself, "Remember, you can't read Spanish."
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to speak about writing to a senior high class in the school where I used to teach. I was delighted to find out that I would be sharing the stage with a former student of mine, and now principal of the school, and also former columnist of SunStar Davao, Ms. Jocy So-Yeung.
Jocy talked about her experience in high school, how I made them write stories and poems and made them feel like their ideas had worth. She carried this feeling of “Hey, I’m a good writer,” with her to college where she was promptly shot down by her teacher who told her to take a remedial class in basic English composition.
It was the first time I heard that story, and it was a humbling experience for me, that my top student whom I considered mature and talented beyond her years, would be asked to take a remedial class. For a while I felt like that boy who couldn’t read Spanish.
During the Question and Answer portion, students asked us questions and at the tail end of it, I ventured a question of my own to my former student, because I was really curious, and I asked, “In light of what you said about your experience, would it have been more beneficial if I had been a stricter teacher in the mold of your college professor?”
She answered that what I did for them was also crucial, because at that stage in their lives, they felt like a “loser’s batch” -- that they weren’t worth anything and that the teachers and administration were
against them. To be fair, she said, I did criticize and correct their writing but more importantly I gave them a voice and made them feel that their opinions mattered. I smiled as I remembered their batch, how I poured everything on them with the enthusiasm of a first-year teacher, before realizing that I was probably expecting or asking too much of this rowdy bunch of 16-year-olds. I wanted to think that I was the greatest teacher they have ever had or will ever have.
It’s good to have one’s ego deflated from time to time.
Like the boy who couldn’t read Spanish, I have to remind myself that I am just one in a long line of influencers in my former students' lives. Some may think that I did wonders for them, while to others, my class was just another boring blip in their existence.
And that’s perfectly fine.
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