Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Remembering Something Strange That Happened My First Year Teaching...

Everyone has memories from the first year of teaching, but even today, I can't believe this really happened!

Right after I graduated from college, I got a call from my former English teacher, Ms. Johns. She asked me if I had found a teaching job, because she wanted me to take over her high school English classes while she was going to be out on extended medical leave--for up to 8 months. The county, even though I was going to be considered a long-term substitute, was willing to pay me a teacher's salary. My B.S. degree was in Elementary Education, but Ms. Johns knew that English was a strength of mine. I gladly accepted the job.

When I rolled into Ms. Johns position, it was almost the end of the first grading period. She informed me that students were finishing term papers. Anyone who has ever been a first-year teacher enters with such high hopes for all students. That's why it really bothered me when I discovered that one of my 9th grade students had not even started his term paper. I thought I'd dazzle him with encouragement, but that didn't work. He informed me, "I'm turning 16 in 2 weeks and my mom is going to let me quit school. The way I see it, why should I even bother with this term paper?" I gave him lots of reasons why he should complete his term paper and even more reasons why quitting school was a bad idea. The young man didn't want to listen to anything I had to say.

I had a great relationship with the principal because I knew him from when I had been a student at the school. I felt like that the young man may have needed a male role model, so I expressed my concerns to the principal; he said that if the young man's attitude didn't change, he'd be happy to talk to him.

The next day, I again sat down with the young man, but he refused to pick up a pencil. He said, "Now I have 13 days until I can quit school."

I said, "I am really concerned and I want you to have a bright future. Quitting school is not the answer. I am going to give you until 2:00 p.m. tomorrow (that would be about 15 minutes into the class period) to show me something or else I'm going to require you to talk to the principal. He, too, is concerned about you."

As class started the next day, I reminded the young man that I would be around to check on his progress. At 1:55 p.m., I walked by his desk and pointed to the clock. He sat there with his arms crossed. At 2:00 p.m., I had no other choice but to follow through with what I told him. I wrote a pass for him to go and see the school's principal. As he snatched the pass, he yelled, "F____ you!" and then he slammed the door. My mouth dropped open. I couldn't believe it. I was trying to help him and he had just cursed at me.

I opened the classroom door and walked out into the hallway. The student was between the classroom and the office. I said, "Young man, you were not in trouble until now. You leave me no choice but to write a disciplinary referral." I noticed a few other students in the hallway and they seemed just as shocked by his behavior as I was.

At 2:15 p.m., the bell rang for students to go to the pep rally. I locked the classroom and walked over to the gym to help supervise students at the pep rally. The cheerleaders were getting the crowd pumped: "Rah, rah, Jamma, Jamma...Best team in Alabama..."

On my way out of the gym, my baby brother--a high school football player--came up to me and said, "You don't have to worry about that student anymore."

I said, "What student?"

He said, "The one that cursed you out!"

Horrified, I asked, "Oh, Sam, what did you do?"

He said, "I jerked him up, threw him against the bleachers, and said, 'No one messes with my sister!'"

"Sam, you can't do that! I know you have always protected me, but you can get in big trouble for what you just did."

My brother went on to explain that once the student realized that I was Sam's sister, he promised he would never do anything like that again.

As strange as this may sound, and as much as I do not condone bullying, this story has a happy ending. The young man in my classroom had a lot of respect for my brother, a big high school football star. He came in class the following Monday a changed man. He had written a paper and turned it in to be graded. The young man earned a "C" on that term paper. Best of all, he did not quit school when his birthday came; he graduated high school with his classmates three years later.

Below is a picture of my brother and me today.
--Tonya of 241 teachers

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