Tuesday, April 19, 2005

For the Love of Teaching

It is not knowledge, but the act of learning, not possession but the act of getting there, which grants the greatest enjoyment.
Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777 - 1855), mathematician and astronomer

A friend and co-worker’s wife is a special education teacher in a part of Los Angeles that I would not drive into unless I absolutely had to because it is not the safest area. I am so impressed by her unselfish and complete caring for her students that I have to share two of her daily journal entries that were kindly shared with me. Thank goodness there are people and teachers like Roxanna.

Journal Entry #7
One day Student X did not do his homework. This was nothing new. In fact, Student X had not done his homework for many days. I sent multiple notes home to the parents. I spoke to Student X's brother. I called his home. I sent notes, I spoke to Student X again, and I spoke to Student X's brothers again. I did everything in my power to help Student X do his homework. But it did not get done.

One day I was finally able to speak with Student X's mother. She had barely braked in front of the school, driving a car that cost three years of my salary. Rather than stop the car, park, and speak, she rolled the window down partway. She did not turn off the motor or the radio. She shouted several things over the radio, including that Student X still had the little pencil I had given him several months ago so he could his homework. But one comment in particular stood out, and made me feel something no teacher should feel: "Mrs. Teacher, my son cannot do his homework because we do not have a pencil sharpener! And, we did not sharpen the pencil you gave us because we cannot fine a sharpener. So he has nothing to write with. You understand."

I did not understand. I did not understand, especially for one very powerful reason: Student X loves schoolwork. When I give him work to do, his face changes, his eyes get big, he smiles, he wants to start immediately. He gets excited when I give homework. He loves to color, draw, and trace. He even loves to help other students with their work. He recognizes the letters in his name, and he loves to trace his name. Whenever he sees the letter that begins his name, he blushes with pride. He acts as if that letter is his and only his. To him, no other name begins with that letter. He acts as if he created that letter and added it to the alphabet!

No, I do not understand. I shouted this over the radio. I also shouted directions to the nearest 99 Cents store, explaining that a person can buy four pencil sharpeners for less than a dollar. I told his mother this. I told her, Student X could use the pencil sharpener in the classroom to sharpen the pencil I gave him three months ago. She had nothing to say, or couldn't hear because of the radio.

So today, I see that letter in the alphabet, and I wonder whose it is. It is an orphan letter. Student X can't have it today; he can't trace it at home, because he does not have a pencil sharpener.

Tomorrow Journal Entry #8


Devo said...

Wow. Some people you just want to throttle some sense into.

Other people you want to pound in the face until they realize that raising children is a far more important activity than rockin' hot new rims on your Urban Assault Vehicle that your babydaddy bought you with a twenty eight percent APR car loan that will NEVER get paid back.

The anger I feel at hearing that story is almost blotted out by the passion with which this teacher describes observing the act of learning. I remember having very similar feelings as a child. I would read the Charlie Brown Encyclopedia like it contained the secret of turning lead to gold. And my parents not only encouraged me, they engaged in the process. They asked me quesitons, and made me think that I was discovering precious secrets that even THEY were not privy to. The fact that Teacher X was able to provide this same feeling to Student X is an inspiration. I'm humbled by the fact that this kind of devotion still remains in a radio-blasting world of pencilless, oblivious, self-centered parents who rob their children of one of the most valuable rights they have: the right to be curious.

The Misanthrope said...

Devo, this journal entry barely scratches the surface of the passion and devotion Roxanna has to teaching and to her students. She is frequently met with road blocks from the school district as well as parents.

Pirate said...

Thanks for sharing this. I know this feeling of watching the love of learning, or at the least seeing a light come on when something finally clicks. It is a truly awesome feeling. It is harder to teach those who just don't seem to care, though I find that with persistence and humor you can break through almost any kid's resolve that math is boring and they'll never need it in the "real" world.

Me said...

I hated school work, didn't do my homework much and coasted through school. But I'll tell you two things - the teachers tried, I was too smart for them (schoolwork made me bored) and they did a good job besides. It was my stuborness and procrastination that didn't get the work done. And two - my parents were involved. They made me do what little homework they could, and were involved daily in my schooling.

This mother needs to be smacked across the head for allowing her child to fail like that. In fact, she's failing the child by not getting involved. Apparantly she's too worried about turning her next trick. It's an outrage that there are losers like this. Again, further proof we need a parenting test and those that fail should be castrated and/or have their ovaries ripped out.

The Misanthrope said...

Pirate, once you break through to the child it sounds like you also have to reach the parent, too.

Hector, I agree. However, there are a number of kids who despite their parents turn out okay.

A. Rivera said...

Incredible that there are parents like that out there, or maybe not. During my time as a school teacher, I may have seen a couple of them more worried over their stuff than the kid. I could not agree more with the others commenting, some people you just want to throttle. But I also agree that some kids will learn in spite of their parents' stupidity (how they managed to reproduce is beyond me). But, as I said, some kids will learn anyways, and to be there and witness a moment of learning, the "a-ha moments" as I like to call them, well, that makes it all worth it.