When the teacher was taught a lesson by her students

Everyone has an experience in their life which makes them reconsider their career choice, or decide that this is what they want to do. And for me, it happened during the first few months of my first job.

When I stepped into the classroom of second graders, on the first day, as their class in charge, I was wondering ‘What the hell I was doing teaching a bunch of hyperactive second graders who obviously were going to get on my nerves’. And within the first month, I understood and agreed to the general and popular opinion among the teachers, that among the three classes I taught, two of them – a grade 2 class and a grade 4 class were notorious and unruly, while the third class was the most well disciplined of all, perhaps of all school and I agree without further arguments. The kids of this class were quiet, attentive and scored well in all their tests and assessments. But it was in those two infamous classes, the classes that teachers despised and considered bothersome that I had found a bunch of kids who changed my life around and made me realize the true meaning, joy and glory of being a teacher.

Little Pip was in grade 2 and most of the teachers told me that he had some sort of behavioural problem. So, I too entered the class with this prejudiced view that made me judge him through the preprogrammed eye. He never completed his work, wrote nothing on his book and whatever he wrote was rubbish, shabby and illegible. He just would not sit still and bothered everyone around him. His grades dangled at C and D and it wasn’t as if he cared.  Everyday, I walked into the staffroom and was greeted with complaints about him. I barged into the class with these on mind and with the slightest provocation screamed at him. Little Pip was comfortable being shouted at and he soon would go back to his old ways as if nothing had happened.

And then came the first open house. On that day I met the parents of Little Pip, and Tom who was in grade 4. Tom’s mother couldn’t speak English and she asked me whether there was anything I could do to help him out. I knew Tom as a child who always disturbed the class and went on talking. His grades were not that good either. There was another boy Tintin who always failed his tests and his spellings were horrible. The teachers and students told me that he had some problem although I still have no idea what it was. His parents met me as well and they seemed desperate for a solution. And as I went over their concerns at home, I wondered whether I was doing enough for these students . I reevaluated myself as a teacher, and my prejudice against these kids and decided that it was worth a try to go back into those classes with a clean slate. The next day, I walked into each class, determined about what I was going to do. And I knew what I was going to do.

I was going to scrap the lesson plan and the injected views about these kids.

I rearranged the classes and made an arrangement in a such a way that all the slow learners and students with other difficulties were around me. The brighter ones copied down the notes while I sat with those who needed help, helping them to write, often erasing out the mistakes I noticed and making them work again. Those who finished with the notes, went around helping others with their work. I handed out compliments every time someone got something right, even if that meant a curve of a letter they couldn’t properly form earlier. It was tedious but I wasn’t going to back out anyway. 

I did exactly the same with the my fourth grade Tintins and Toms. Those who could do the workbook on their own did it and those who needed help sat around me and worked. Every time they got stuck, I would help them, sometimes even going through a concept quickly. As the assessment week came nearer, I prepared revision sheets for students. I corrected them in class and for those who could not make it, I recycled the questions until they got the hang of it. Yes, it was not easy and needed a lot of energy and enthusiasm. 

When the kids saw that the teacher was there for them, it was as if they were more eager to work than ever before. Tintin was happy every time he nailed a question. I sent a note to his parents asking them make him practise at home, especially the spellings, and promised them that I would take care of the rest. It was not a one man show. There were kids in my classes like Mary, Sam and Harold who offered help to these kids during lunch hours or class hours and updated me on the status.

When the assessment results came, Little Pip and Tintin had aced while Tom made it to a B. That day I walked into the classes, and asked them to guess the grades. The kids guessed D and C, and was finally at awe when I told them the real grades. Let me tell you that, I had in no way adjusted or made the marking liberal for them. Those kids had worked for it and their classmates and parents had supported.

The moment I stood there watching those kids beam with joy, I knew I was proud of what they had achieved. That moment felt more fulfilling than anything in my life. That was the moment I realized that a teacher’s true achievements are the achievements of her students.

Sometime during that month, despite some protests, I gave the student of the week title to little Pip. In the days that followed, Little Pip changed. He enjoyed the attention that I gave him . His behavior and handwriting improved so much that it surprised me. One day, as I was writing something on my pad, he brought his book to me and showed his work. It was very neat and I gave him the pencil I had with me at that time. The complaints about him soon ceased and the teachers started to notice the change in him as well. There was even a teacher who taught the same class of mine who claimed to be the reason for his change. I didn’t mind. His mother told me during the next open house that he had improved a lot, and that he talks about me a lot. I received a note from Tom’s parents thanking me for the effort I had taken. Tintin, even after I left the school runs to me and meets me, wishes me and says thank you every time he sees me.

Soon after the end of that academic year, I left the school for another job. Let me tell you that there were many people in that school who really loved me, that soon after I left, criticisms about my teaching and disciplinary methods started flooding in from those who have not even seen a single class of mine. I have not tried to set the record straight. And none of these stories or experiences are there on my PD file. They are just personal memories that I’ve taken with me.

Those were the kids who taught me that lesson plans and blue books aren’t everything. It’s all about the strong feeling that you give them, the feeling that your teacher would be there for you when you need her, that she would not label them or let a label define them,that she would be able to see past those labels, and that she would not forsake them.  And for me the greatest achievements are and will be those students who come to me even after several years telling me that they remember me and would remember me as one of the  teachers who made a mark in some manner, and their achievements of which they consider me a part of.