Friday, January 27, 2006

A Return

Some of you know that from 1994 to 2000, I taught high school English at Martin Luther King Junior Academic Magnet High School for the Health Sciences and Engineering (yes, that is its full name). In the 1996-7 school year, I was teaching a majority of the seniors in my Honor English classes and one class in particular, my 6th period, was pretty problematic. The kids liked to push limits with their behaviors and really try to elicit reactions from me. They would write names on my white board (Oliver Clothesoff is probably the only one I can put here), say things in class that were right on the border of inappropriateness, and generally push my buttons.

Well, one day I came in and my nameplate was missing. Some of you might say, "Big deal." However, this was a special to me. The teacher that I had worked with during my student teaching (Mrs. Tune at Hillsboro High School) had given to me when I finished. It was really symbolic of what I was trying to be as a teacher. Now I knew that I couldn't show these kids how upset I was about this or some other things might disappear (I'm honestly kind of surprised that my desk didn't disappear at some point). I asked about it and no one fessed up, so I left it alone.
That year $1000 for the Senior trip was also stolen from my desk.
I learned a lot from that year. I learned that I had to be a teacher and not a friend to the kids. I could be friendly, but when push came to shove, I was the teacher. Plus, I was 25 and they were 18. Why did I care whether they liked me or not? I learned that kids feed off reactions. If they do something and you react in a way that amuses them, they will do it again and again. There was a particular teacher that they did this too and I was determined to not be as ridiculed (to my face anyway) as that teacher was. And again. I learned to keep things as interesting in the class as possible, but remember that they had to pass my class to graduate.

Wednesday night at 9:30. I get a phone call at home. "Is this the Phil Wilson that taught English at MLK?" I answered yes. He told me who he was (we'll call him Bill) and asked me if I remembered that nameplate. I of course answered yes. He confessed that he had been the one that had taken it. He had been going through some stuff and found it. He lives here in town and wanted to return it. So I gave him directions to my office and yesterday, he returned it to me. We caught up some and reminisced about how he and I acted during those times, some of the struggles we had, one of the conversations we had. I thanked him for bringing it back to me and he thanked me for taking it back.

It was a great reminder to me that there's a lot of growing up that happens between 18 and 27 and that people can change a great deal in that time. It was also a great reminder of those days when I was teaching and I might have to write about that some more.

Addendum: A sad addendum to this story is that the student who did this died in a motorcycle accident less than six month later.


jettybetty said...

That's a great story!
I would love to hear some more teaching stories!

greg said...

Great story. By the way, thanks for your blog. I don't remember how I found it (although likely through another blog) but I've really enjoyed reading it.

Clarissa said...

$1000? Let me know if you get THAT back!

That Girl said...

I'm glad he cared enough to return that.

Being someone that accepts practical jokes pretty well, I get a lot of them. At a recent health fair, I was calling the names of patients and taking them to the proper screening location. I was given a registration slip and went to the waiting area...

I called, "Anita Mann! Excuse me... Anita Mann!" I began to hear a few snickers and said it quietly one more time before beginning my search for the joker!

Amy W said...

Wow! What a GREAT story!

As a former English teacher myself, I can TOTALLY relate! It is a fine line to walk at times, and teens will be teens whenever they can get away with it!

He must have really respected you to care enough to make the effort to return that nameplate to you. You had a bigger impact on those kids than you will probably ever know.


LB said...

Hm...I wonder if Jesus will give me the stickers back that he took off my desk today. Methinks not.

bfine107 said...

Wow, that is a really good story. I'm in my first six monthes of teaching high school boys, and I wonder what they will be like in five and ten years. Thanks for the encouragement.

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