Reflective Teaching: Day 9

Write about one of your biggest accomplishments in your teaching that no one knows about (or may not care).

One of my biggest accomplishments does not have to do so much with my math instruction, but being a good advocate for my students.  I taught at a school where we have a lot of different challenges for our students, and therefore many of our students also need alternate settings or options for learning.  I signed on to be a individual instructor for a student who many other teachers had written off.  He was involved in gangs, drugs, fought in school and was generally a distraction in the classroom.  I had him in class and really worked hard on building a relationship with this student.  I did not immediately sign up to work with him after school- I have a family and needed the time after school to be with them.  I received a second notice because they couldn’t find someone willing to work with this student, so after talking it over with my wife, I signed up.  I enjoyed working with him, and felt he needed someone who would be able to connect with him and be supportive.

I will not say that I didn’t have reservations on my first trip out to his home.  I thought I knew the conditions that our students faced- we talked about them all the time.  Talking about conditions and actually witnessing and experiencing them are totally different things.  He lived in a run-down trailer that was surrounded by a graveyard of broken down vehicles.  The entry porch did not line up with the trailer, it moved when you walked through it and you could see outside and feel the wind whip through it.  Once entering the trailer things didn’t get much better.  The floors were no longer covered, everything was ripped up and unfinished.  There were a couple of holes in the kitchen/dining room area, which were covered with the table.  The only light was one over the kitchen sink, so reading and working was a challenge.  There were 8 dogs running around the trailer (a single wide) as well as 4 other smaller siblings.  There were 6 other adults in the living room while we worked, and the smoke that rolled throughout the area reminded me of when I used to work in a bar.  After many setbacks, we did get through the work I brought out, and he even walked and talked with me to my car.  I later found out that the next night, there was a driveby shooting up of his trailer, thankfully everyone was away from the home at the time.  We settled into a routine and it got easier for us to manage tutor sessions, although the conditions where we did so remained unchanged.  He was able to maintain he studies that year and passed to the next grade- at which time he was enrolled in the alternative learning center and was able to attend classes.

I did not see him again for 5 years, and I am not sure I would have immediately recognized him.  I was sitting at the gas station and someone came up to my truck and knocked on my window.  It was him.  We talked for quite a while, he wanted to share how much he had grown and how his life had developed.  He was no longer involved with drugs or gangs, had a steady girlfriend and 2 children with her.  He was working a regular, good paying job within the community.  I enjoyed hearing about his successes, it reminded me why I wanted to become a teacher in the first place- to help children learn about the world and become successful adults.  When our talk winded down and I was ready to leave, he stopped me.  “You know Mr. Anderson, when I was young I was a real shit to work with, I am sorry for that.  I know you worked really hard to make sure I could learn what I needed, and I know you helped out with my other teachers as well.  I really appreciated you coming out to my house, it really meant a lot.  I want to say thank you for doing that, and for helping me become a better man.”

What he said that day will stay with me forever.

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