My children were growing up and leaving the nest. Wanting to fill up my days with a challenging project, I heard through a friend that a local high school needed an English teacher.
I love kids and am a freelance writer, so I interviewed for the position. The principal, however, was doubtful that I could make headway with a pretty apathetic group of students.
No one expected anything productive to sprout forth from this group of 13-year-olds. I had a teenaged daughter the same age, and I assured the principal that if he just handed the girls over to me, he would see results.
I never took a methodology class in college; in fact, I was not very enthused about being an education major, and thus changed my field of study.
What I did have was a love of the written word, and being a “people person” I felt that I could find common ground with my charges.
My students and I were in for a mutually rude awakening. Accustomed to merely getting by, they were not prepared for someone who meant business.
I wrote my own curriculum and expected my students to do the work that was assigned to them in a timely fashion.
In addition to their tests, every homework assignment was graded. The girls were required to rewrite each piece of work so that they would learn from their mistakes. Remembering how I would cringe as a kid when having a paper returned to me festooned with numerous red-inked corrections, I used a green pen in order to grade the work assigned to them.
My students were in shock. Their teacher was running a tough-love boot camp. They didn’t know what hit them!
There were tears and tantrums, but I would not budge.
I told them that I cared too much about them than to not insist that they work up to their potential. This was certainly a foreign concept to them. Here was a teacher who actually believed that they could do good work. Hmm.
It took weeks for me to see results. The battle was hard fought, but we – teacher and students – all prevailed beyond our expectations.
Although I was a middle-aged grandmother at the time, inside me still lived a 13- year-old that had suffered the slings of the sort of teachers who today would have been chucked out before they started.
Words hurt. Their sting can last forever unless and until someone comes along and cares enough to believe in a child’s ability to succeed.
When required to re-write her assignment, the student who threw the tantrum at the beginning of the year had only one mistake this time. She cheerfully redid the entire paper – without hesitation.
My students became known as “My Girls.” At the end of the school year, a fellow teacher told me that the faculty now viewed “My Girls” with respect. They were no longer an apathetic group of young ladies. They now walked with heads held high, believing in their abilities – all because I loved them too much to not believe in them.
Four years later I received an invitation to their high school graduation. The return address noted that the invitation had been sent to me from “Your Girls.” I don’t know who was prouder of the graduating class that night, their parents or their former teacher!
It has been 10 years since that wondrous year. Yes, 10 years. That was the year that 9/11 occurred.
In an e-mail sent to me recently by one of my students, she recalled how I came to class not knowing the fate of my husband, who works near Battery Park. During class word came that, thank G-d, he was safe!
I taught my girls the word “ambivalent” on that day, and they still remember how their teacher could encapsulate with one word the emotions of that day – feelings seared into the collective memory of our country.
Graduations, weddings, and the births of a new generation of precious children have come to “My Girls,” and I am there front and center sharing these wonderful occasions with them.