Monday, May 28, 2012

Falling Short - Part Two

Home in our apartment, flat out in bed with belly protruding, I could tell exactly when it was 3:20 because the phone would ring and it would be one or more of the girls from class calling to tell me what a mess the day had been.

“The teacher was fighting with the boys!”

"Jabbar fell asleep in class!"

“No one did their homework!”

“Karim was climbing on the cabinets!”

“She let us have SODA!”

Things were falling apart. My replacement was a brand-new first-time teacher who had just graduated in December.  She was young and green and they were eating her alive.  Even my colleagues (when I pressed) reluctantly told me the kids were "swinging from the rafters." 

The calls went on day after day. Shamefully, I began to avoid answering the phone after three o’clock. I didn’t want to hear. I didn’t want to know what was happening.

What was happening?  Why were they acting up?  Why weren't they behaving as they had learned to behave?  What had changed?

Just one thing.  Only one thing had changed.

I was gone.  And with me went all that I'd worked so hard to instill. All they'd worked so hard to achieve, all that struggling, all that striving.  Turns out they didn't do any of it for themselves, they did it to please me.  I failed to teach them that they should make the most of their skills and talents because of what it would mean to them — I didn't know enough to teach them that.  Everything they did, they did out of a desire to please their teacher. And once the teacher was gone, so was the behavior.  All I had accomplished was to make them loyal to me.   

All they had gained under my tutelage soon fell by the wayside.  

It would take me decades to figure out how NOT to make that mistake again.
Read the conclusion to this tale in The Turnaround


  1. Another good story.......I think you accomplished more than making the students just want to please you.

  2. So far....Falling Short, both one and two, sounds like you are too hard on yourself as a teacher. Kids that act up when the "good" teacher is gone are just acting like kids!! All kids size up the authority over them and figure out how much they can get away with.....actually adults do this more than we really admit too. Case in many miles over the speed limit can you drive on the highway without getting pulled over is most people's attitude. I am not saying its is just human nature unfortunately. If you are dealing with 3rd graders, this story doesn't surprise me. The problem was having an inexperience replacement for you. She, most likely, learned a hard lesson about the challenges of teaching herself and she entered as spring fever was about to set in!

  3. In most cases students don't appreciate the lessons learned from teachers until well after the lesson was learned.

  4. Jules, Margee, Anonymous..thank you for your support. I don't believe I am being too hard on myself. It was a BIG mistake but it taught me a valuable lesson. I wrote this in part to confess and in greater part to hope that it would help another rookie avoid making the same mistake.

  5. Wow, fantastic insight!! Really, thanks for sharing.