Gifts do not always come in a box with a bow.
Over the years, I have received some really special gifts from former students and each gift as wonderful as its giver. I have taught 5th grade – Community College Developmental Reading.
Some of the gifts do not come in a box with a bow.
To this day, I have a copy of a teacher evaluation completed by one of my students who sat in my developmental reading class. Students who did not pass the Reading Entrance Exam were required to take the developmental reading class. And what an awesome group of students: An interesting mix of students who had recently graduated from high school along with middle-aged folks who had recently been laid off from the local knitting factory. To say we had incredible discussions is such an understatement. While I was fortunate to receive high marks from all my evaluators, the student who gifted me with his comments was one of the young men who had recently graduated from high school.
“Dear Mrs. Houck,
As you know I am in your class because I did not make a high enough score on the entrance test. I graduated from high school not knowing how to read. And now, all I want to do is read. Mrs. Houck, you have done in one semester what my teachers apparently did not do in 4 years of high school. You have taught me to see there are so much more to a book or story than just the words on the page. You have opened up a world I never knew existed.”
In addition to teaching the developmental reading class a couple of nights a week, the community college had also hired me to be the GED/AHSD instructor for a new program, a collaboration between Wilkes Community College, New River Behavioral Health, Ashe Partnership for Children and Ashe Literacy League. Our students were teenage parents or soon to be teenage parents. It was kind of like having my own one-room schoolhouse. While the teenagers worked with me on getting their choice: a GED or Adult High School Diploma, those already with children did not have to worry because their children were being taken care of by a wonderful woman. Most chose the faster GED route, but there were some who only lacked a few credits and chose the AHSD. And I would have never left, if it had not been for a phone call I received. The principal from Blowing Rock called and asked me to interview for a middle school position teaching science and reading. And I still would not have made the switch, but he offered me health insurance –something I did not have and felt like I really needed in case something ever happened to my sons. So, I took the job and the long drive that came along with it. I spent my second year at Blowing Rock teaching 5th grade.
In order to meet the obligations of an existing collaboration, this time between Watauga County Schools, Watauga County Arts Council and New York Metropolitan Opera Guild, I was sent to Montgomery, Alabama for one week in order to be trained on how to supervise students as they created their own opera. You have never really been on an adventure until you have supervised a reading class of 20 5th graders (16 boys and 4 girls) as they create their own opera. It was the day before the students would present their opera that I had to do something that I did not know if I would really be able to do, but having done it, I believe I made a positive impact on all the students. I had to make good on a promise. After many warnings, one on one chats, behavioral contracts, and meetings with mom and dad, it had been decided that if our main opera actor interfered one more time with the goal of the presentation, he would not be allowed to participate in the opera. Because he was the main opera actor, replacing him at the last minute would mean putting even more stress on the existing members. The day before the presentation, I fired the main opera actor. The show went on. Our opera producer, an incredibly shy student stepped in and performed beautifully. The student who I was forced to fire still came to the opening show. After the show, the boy and his parents came up to me and asked me if they could speak to me privately. Naturally, I said, “Yes,” but really not exactly sure what to expect.
To my surprise, the student and his parents thanked me for following through on what I had said I would do, and while the the kid had learned so many cool things during the creating of the opera, he now knew the importance of doing what you say you will do.
In case you are curious, my degree is in English/Secondary Education with a minor in Philosophy/Religion.
And eventually, I made my way to the high school...i e...secondary education as the English teacher for a new program designed to keep kids in school who had been identified as at-risk for dropout. In order to qualify for the program, students had to be capable of grade level work. The overwhelming majority of the students were in the program because of attendance issues. What so many did not seem to understand was that attendance issues could not be solved by implementing tougher attendance policies. Regardless of the mindset of those who created more obstacles, our small team of teachers carried on working endlessly to keep these kids in school which brings me to the last gift I would like to share with you. Some of you already know this, but for those of you who do not know, my mom has a rare form of cancer. This means she has lots of doctor appointments. After taking her to a doctor’s appointment, I managed to get her to agree to go out to lunch before returning home. While we were eating our lunch, one of my former “at-risk” students came in the restaurant. He came over and we chatted. I learned that he was now married and doing well, and just there picking up an order. Just seeing him and seeing that he was doing well was a gift in of itself; however, when it came time to pay for the meal, the waiter said the bill had been paid and handed me a piece of paper:
Ms.Houck, If it had not been for you, I would not have graduated from high school.
Some gifts do not come in a box with a bow.
© 2015 ocfireflies