I went back in 1987 to my old high school, no longer in existence, to teach social studies. As I turn the magic number this week of 55, I can now collect my monthly pension. My ten year payout is paltry compared to what thirty years in gives retirees, but I have worked with people who lived on that amount. I am grateful and my life is simple.
Today I will reflect on the one room school house. There I was with 130 or so faces passing through my classroom daily and I was ill equipped to discipline in the late 20th century, when an older English teacher told me: ‘the best way to discipline: pretend you are in a one room school house.’
This picture above is a one room school house. His advice sounded good and sometimes it worked. Most of the time, it did not.
It worked when I taught a college level Macro-Economics course to 17 well-behaved, motivated, curious students. I loved what I was teaching and the students and I gelled. Throughout my lectures, discussions arose that made me think that I was connecting to humanity in a profound way. Teaching at its best: those moments when everybody gets it and falls silent at the weight of the knowledge.
The students wanted to learn from me and I believe I did a good job. It was the parent of one of these students who sent me the greatest thank you note in my teaching career. I have it somewhere among my things: she left a message with the school secretary who wrote it out and to the effect, it read ‘Dan loves your class and cant wait to get there everyday.’
Most of the time, my one room school house was a wreck, or close to it. To be fair, I weighed 40 pounds less than I do now, was ill prepared for coping with the illnesses and drugs that coursed through the veins of my students, and was evaluated at the time by my aunt’s hard core divorce friend as, ‘too nice for this world.’
My disclaimer however, should not substitute for the lack of support I received from parents, colleagues in the department, and administrators, to run my one room school house. Nor should it negate, the expectations placed on me to bring out the best in all 130 souls that passed my way. For me, the weight of the conflict was extraordinary…I knew after my first year, I could give public school teaching 10 years but that a lifetime of it would drain my soul.
In the same one room, circa 1996, thirty-three hormonal fourteen year olds barreled into my Global Studies class for ninth period, the last class of the day. Thirty-three students is a number at which you just pray to keep them all alive without melting down yourself. The end of the day…always a bad class time, thats why it is assigned to new teachers. Students at fourteen have been trapped for about 7 hours, they want out, jumping beans come to mind. I delivered the material but I was really in survivor mode.
At a parent teacher conference, a parent of a shy young man from that class took me to task. ‘Look,’ he said. ‘You’ve got a bright kid here, I would think that you would pull him aside, nurture him, encourage him, get him to his personal best. Not come home with Cs.’
I literally was speechless. He had a point, but what I wanted to yell back at him was, 168 students (we were in an over enroll year) pass through that door everyday. You have one – you do the job!
Now I say: Sir, I would of if I could of!
Claire Anne Perez