Thinking these particular juniors couldn’t learn much, the administration had labeled the students in the five classes as the “C learners.” The “D and F learners” made up the remedial class.
I set out to prove to the powers-that-be that they were wrong.
The beginning was rough because I believe that the answers to most of our questions lie within each of us. If we search, we’ll find them. What this means practically is that when students ask questions, I direct the questions back to them.
“What does this guy Frost mean when he says that one road made all the difference?” a junior asks.
“What came to your mind when you read that?”
“I asked you first.”
“What do the rest of you think? What difference can a road make?” I ask, looking around at their young faces.
“Think beyond the poem,” I suggest. “What’s a road for?”
“Think about something that takes you somewhere. Can anyone name some roads you’ve been down in your life?”
The students are stuck in what the administration believes about them. A few days later, the superintendent calls me into his office. A group of juniors has complained to him about me. He describes the meeting to me.
“What don’t you like about Ms. Ready?” he’d asked them.
“She’s dumb. We know we’re dumb, but how can we get any better with dumb teachers?”
“What makes you think she’s dumb?”
“She doesn’t know any answers. She asks us what the answers are.”
Another junior, clearly incensed, shouted, “She’s supposed to be teaching us.”
When the super reports this to me, I feel like crying. These kids know their worth. They’re desperate for someone to value them. I immediately realize the mistake I’ve made—I neglected to explain to them that they have answers within themselves. Dah.
I try to explain to the superintendent what I’m doing, but he cautions me to be practical. “They’re only C learners,” he points out. “Don’t aim too high. You can’t expect much.”
Angry now, I retort, “I can expect a lot. There’s gold in them there hills!”
He shakes his head. I recognize the gesture. Even though I’ve been out of the convent only six years, I’ve already discovered that in doubt, many men simply shake their heads. Automatic reflex or something.
“They’ll surprise all of you this year,” I tell him.
“Don’t be disappointed if that doesn’t happen,” he says, turning to his paperwork.
Well it does happen. Next day, I explain to each of the six junior classes why I don’t answer many questions. I stress that many, many, many answers lie within them. I express my belief in them. I challenge them to be true to themselves.
They respond whole-heartedly.
Their absentee rate goes down dramatically. Each day, the 268 shoulder their way into my classroom, eager to hear the inventive answers their fellow classmates come up with to their own questions.
The next thing that happens delights me. . . .
(to be concluded on Thursday)