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.
Published in the SunStar Davao newspaper on October 06, 2017.
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