I think that I scared my students, and believe me I didn’t want to. I teach a class called Foundations of American Education at the local community college. It’s what we old teachers used to call Education 101. This is the basic introduction to what it means to be a teacher. In September, I told my students the goals of the class. My first goal was to not scare anyone away from the profession. But I added that there would be some challenges that they would need to face as preparing teachers. Challenges should not be confused with scare tactics, I said.
Last night I handed back research papers. There were a lot of D’s. My young future teachers really struggle with writing! I asked how many of them read regularly. Only 20% said they did. I began to sweat. I didn’t prepare a lesson on the value and necessity of reading for all people, let alone teachers. But we did talk and discuss the issue, and there seems to be a problem that they all have in common.
No one ever taught them to love reading, to value reading. They were all told that they couldn’t write, but no one really took the time to teach them. These perspectives are those of the students and are certainly not burdened with any sense of personal responsibility, but the message is a common one: no one ever told me that I could read and write; no one ever believed in me.
How does one share one’s love of language? This love never came naturally for me; I really had to work at it. I did, however, have one professor that helped me in not so obvious ways: Ted McCrorie. He loved literature, and he was a poet. Was he responsible for my own path into language and education? It’s not that simple. What Ted did for me was to believe in me; in fact, on some days I thought he even liked me.
You see, I am and was a lucky man. I got into college because I was an athlete. I’m not so sure that I would have gotten into this particular college without that. You see, when I graduated from high school, I couldn’t read (the irony was thick, the English teacher said with a flair for the cliché). Oh I had decoding skills and a good sight vocabulary but put two words together and it meant nothing to me. I would have scored 0 on any fluency test. A psychologist told me later on that I probably have a mild case of some kind of dyslexia. Ted McCrorie knew my little secret, but never let on that he knew. After tests he would call me to his office to get “clarification” on some of the things I had written. He would laugh and tell me that my handwriting was so bad that he couldn’t read what I had written. In reality, he was allowing me to re-take my essay tests in oral form. We had an unspoken agreement. Ted would assess me in this manner—buying me time—and I would use that time to improve my language skills. Ted gave me what I try to give my own students: time, many chances, and belief that I was actually trying to improve myself. And that’s what I did.
I am allowing my students to revise their papers. I hope that I didn’t scare them. I hope that they believe in themselves and have the feeling that I believe in them. These students will make the best teachers if they get through because they will always remember the struggles that students go through, because they are going through that now.
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