Thursday, August 11, 2011

Holy Ground

Conclusion of Tuesday’s posting . . .
In November 1972, the New England juniors hesitantly ask if I’ll help them learn how to answer essay questions. They’re the reason they often do poorly on tests. Rejoicing that they’re claiming their own destiny, I say, “Let’s start next Monday.”
             Within days, I obtain fifteen copies of old essay-question exams from their subject-matter teachers. Using these, I divide the questions into five basic types: analyze, compare/contrast, discuss, define, and describe. To devise answers to these and to others questions that might begin differently, the students will have to think critically. That will be my task—to help them develop this skill by using the experiences they already have.
            Monday rolls around and our new adventure begins. We spend two weeks on each type. We begin to learn the difference between “discuss such and such” and “describe so and so” and “compare this and that” and “contrast these and those.”
            For the next eleven weeks we have a set schedule: For the first part of each daily fifty-minute period we study American Literature—the subject area of our class. During the second part of the period, we study one type of essay question.
            On the Friday of week one, the students write answers to a question representing the type we’ve studied that week.  I assess these and hand them back on Monday. For the rest of the second week, we study what’s been done well and how to improve what needs more work. We proceed to devote two weeks to each of the five types of essay questions.
            Ten weeks of study progress in leaps and bounds of understanding and growing confidence. Monday of the eleventh week, I distribute a list of fifteen sample essay questions about American Literature for the exam they will take on Friday. They have three days to consider their responses. On Friday I give them an exam made up of ten questions from Monday’s list. I ask them to choose five—one from each of the five types—to answer.            
           During the weeklong break, I evaluate their work. They’ve done brilliantly, and I find myself both smiling and crying as I look at their words. I have supper with my roommates and babble on and on about these wonderful juniors who set a goal and met it with grace and fortitude.
            When I hand the exams back to them, with their grades on the final page, they begin to grin. Giggle. Slap their desks. Shake hands across the aisles. Cheer themselves. Finally they break into song. Their smiles could have lit our room for the rest of the year.
            Soon, their other teachers take me aside to tell me how interested the “C learners” have suddenly become in learning. How well they’re doing. How enjoyable they are.
            In June, they ace their final exams, surprising everyone, even themselves. Their faces glow. They have come so far. I encourage them to take delight in their accomplishments. To be proud of themselves.
             Later, a friend asks me to describe my philosophy of education. I really don’t know that I have one. Well, maybe one—Respect students. In the Holy Oneness of All Creation we are each gifted. With those students in that classroom I was Moses before the burning bush and I took off my sandals because I stood on holy ground.
            That’s how I think we need to go through life. Within our heart, minds, spirits. Within our eyes, words, souls, we need to stand barefoot and awed before the holiness of each person we meet. 


  1. Dee this is wonderful! I love how you have stated in this story my feelings exactly about education and life.. It takes one person to see the good in another to just bring out the best in them. Beautiful.. Bravo

  2. What a beautiful gift your post was to me. The timing absolutely perfect for a teacher returning to the classroom in a couple weeks. I agree, respect is the most important gift we can give our students. When they know we respect them, then they respect themselves and others. Those students worked really hard, but they were so engaged they hardly realized how much of themselves they were putting into their daily lives! What a uplifting and wonderful story to keep in my heart. Thank you for sharing, Dee!

  3. So amazing. This would make the best book!

    We are all special, each with something wonderful to offer--You've described this and proved it in such a profound way. Well done!

  4. I love your approach to this request, and I can clearly see why these students chose you to ask for help. It is those teachers who truly care for (and about) their students who are the ones that kids gravitate toward and nurturing those relationships is so much more important than "book learning." That part comes with the first.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Respect and you encouraged self-repect, too. Just plain loving fellow human beings is often overlooked. Wonderful post!! :)

  6. What inspirational words to contemplate and integrate. You are an amazing writer.

  7. Hi lady!
    Elisa told me to go look at the comments on my daughters interview with her yesterday. I laughed as many of the comments asked if she was my clone. She's not. We are very different in some way's but our sense of humor is the same. She's a great kid and I am proud of her. Your comment made me smile. You are one of those people I would love for her to meet.

  8. What a beautiful life philosophy you espouse, Dee. And what a gift your presence was to those remarkable students! Such a stirring story.

  9. This whole story is wonderful! If only more teachers like you were out there in the world. I hope this inspires those who would be, to teach with such heart. Too many give up too easily on kids, and teach them to give up on themselves. For some, it only takes one adult telling them they can be more, that changes their whole path. That is how it was for me.
    These kids were blessed with you.


  10. …on hallowed ground…


    A Buddhist monk was asked, "What comes after enlightenment?"

    "The dishes," he responded.

  11. What a wonderful thing for me to get to read the day before I return to my classroom after two years away. This brought tears to my eyes. You are such an inspiration, Dee. I'm sure those kids are still talking about you.

  12. "We need to stand barefoot and awed before the holiness of each person we meet."

    Beautiful. True. Thank you. I shared this on my Facebook page.

  13. You are truly good, Dee. I don't think I can ever attempt a teaching job again (not that I can get one anyway). I am too afraid of being attacked by the students.


  14. What a gift you were to those students. I hope they were able to fully integrate and apply those wonderful lessons you taught them into a fully realized embrace of their potential.