I taught elementary school, fourth grade, but I don't think I made my history classes very interesting. Looking back on the young 23 year-old I was then, I wish I could tell her what she could do to make those classes interesting.
My nephew, a history buff, teaches history and he knows how to interest all of his students. I have not attended his classes, but I hear that he doesn't teach from a text book. He uses other methods to get the high school children so involved they love it. They love him.
Someone once said to me, "I'll bet you were a wonderful teacher."
Perhaps I was a good teacher because I took a personal interest in each child that sat in my classroom. I might have become too close to my kids because many of them had family problems they wanted to share with me. One little perfectionist, a good student, had emotional problems because her father and mother separated. The little girl felt a need to take care of her mother who evidently shared her troubles and fears with her children. The child became almost hysterical when she made a mistake on a test. I let her come into class early for days so she could talk to me about her concerns. She sat in my lap and cried as she told me how she and her mom knelt by her bed every night and prayed for her father to come back.
Another troubled student, a boy who was eleven years old, but big for his age, came into school after the school year began. He sat in back of the class with anger shooting from his eyes. His body language told me he was trouble. He never opened a book or picked up a pencil. His arms crossed over his chest, he glared at me.
It was not difficult to see this boy needed counseling. Not knowing anything about his history it was clear that he was on the verge of exploding, and I hoped it would not happen in my classroom. I wrote a letter to his parents and asked them to come in to see me. I also suggested he might benefit from therapy.
Soon after his arrival, we were told we would have Parent's Day. Mothers and fathers could come and sit in the back of the classroom, observe the children, and me. The idea of having such a critical audience unnerved me, a green, inexperienced young teacher.
I was never anxious when I stood before my 32 students each day, but having parents there to observe was a different thing. My timing of the letter home for the troubled boy could not have been worse. He arrived the morning of Parent's Day with a thunder cloud face and immediately told me he was not going to see a shrink.
"You can't make me, either," he said in a voice that said he was itching for a fight. I had hoped his parents would not tell him I suggested he have therapy, but they must have told him I thought he needed a psychiatrist.
My day with the parents had begun on a very bad note. I went to my principal, Mrs. Gotko, a slight little woman who had suffered a bad car accident the year before and had missed several months of school.
"I'm afraid he will cause a bad incident while the parents are here. If he rebels and won't mind me, I don't know what I will do, " I said.
"I'll come down and talk to him," Mrs Gotko said.
I went back to my classroom and soon the principal arrived and motioned for my angry student to come out in the hallway. He slammed a book down on his desk and ambled out the door. I felt such relief just knowing my competent principal was going to handle my problem. I called the roll and had no sooner reached the Ds than one of my students cried out. "Miss Council, Mrs. Gotko is on the floor!"
I rushed to the door and found the older woman struggling to her feet. My student was no where to be seen.
"He knocked me down. He didn't hit me, but he pushed me." Breathless and upset, Mrs. Gotko said she was going to call his parents. "You can go back to your classroom now."
Several adults came into the room and took their seats in the back. I managed to get through my classes as though nothing had happened, but when lunch time came and the parents had gone I went straight to the office.
"He won't be back here. You won't have to deal with him anymore." The principal said she had called the police who were out looking for him.
"What will they do with him," I asked. I felt guilty that I had not been able to handle the boy and I never wanted him to leave school under such horrible circumstances. He was so young and already in trouble with the police.
I later learned that he was found by the police that afternoon, and that he was going to be sent to his grandmother's to live.
I wondered why this boy hated the world. Had he been abused at home? Maybe he had a stepfather or father who was mean to him or a mother who mistreated him. A child would not normally have so much anger inside if he had not faced major problems. I wondered if there had been more time, would I have been able to reach him.
I never heard anything else about this child, but he is just one of the many I still feel concern for, feel I somehow failed. Looking back, I think I have too much empathy to be a good school teacher. I should have studied psychology. I wanted to help these kids more than I wanted to teach them to read and write.
What I should have done
Looking back, I see what I could have done with my early years that might have been more helpful, places where I could have made more of a difference, work that would have been more suitable to me. Like my sister, Gay, I think I would have liked counseling. Or maybe I could have taught psychology, a subject I most enjoy. Maybe I should have worked for a non-profit that helps children in distress. I might have been a good counselor or children.
All throughout our lives we learn, gain wisdom in many ways, and when we are too old to start over, we finally discover what we should have done or been.
Have you ever felt you failed at something or failed someone?