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Monday, February 20, 2012

How One Teacher Changed a Life

English: Otay Ranch Town Center mall in Chula ...
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One comment can change a person’s life. That is powerful. As teachers it is important to understand the power of our words and our ability to affect a positive change in the lives of our students, as the following story will attest.

It was a warm spring day in the Chula Vista, CA classroom. She sat towards the back of her class at Castle Park Junior High in hopes of being overlooked by her teacher, Mr. Rose. A faint breeze provided by the open door offered little but the promise of a freedom still 10 minutes away. She finished addressing
the envelope she had been assigned, and shifted uncomfortably in her wooden seat. A quick glance at the clock told her there were still eight minutes left to freedom.  There was a brief murmuring and shuffling of paper as students passed their envelopes to the front of each row. Mr. Rose began his familiar routine of collecting the work, his chalky fingers gingerly grabbing each set of envelopes and pausing to inspect each one. The girl felt her breath catch in her throat as the teacher began pointing out that most of the envelopes were incorrect.  He began handing them back to students asking irritably why ninth graders couldn't properly address envelopes.  She began to panic and her heart pounded furiously in her chest. She was terrified of being singled out in class.  She quickly rationalized that her envelope couldn't be wrong...she wrote letters to her mother all the time...she had lots of practice. Then it happened…the life changer… Mr. Rose stopped at her desk, leaned over, and said in a kind and sincere voice, "You are smart. I expect more out of you than this." 

Her world screeched to a halt in that moment.  No one had ever told her she was smart. Instead she was regularly told that she was the 'pretty' one...her sister was the 'smart' one. The same adult who made that pronouncement was sure to drive the point home in other ways. "Poor Dear...your mother didn't want you. She always favored your sister anyway, she would say you were dumb but your sister was smart as a whip."  So this middle school girl rationalized away her teacher’s comment.  Surely Mr. Rose had been mistaken...he just didn't know the truth about her. She didn't even hear the bell ring.

A seed had been planted that day by Mr. Rose. Halfway through her tenth grade year, she decided to test his theory and tried for straight A's. She ended up with all A's and one B (in typing of all things). She was floored to discover that Mr. Rose might just have known something about her after all. It gave her confidence to keep going. She ultimately became a teacher herself and earned her masters degree.

That 9th grade girl with no self-confidence was me. If Mr. Rose had never made his passing comment to me, I probably would have continued to believe I was intellectually lacking. It still took many years to overcome my negative upbringing, but I did.

So please, never make any assumptions that a child who is not working for you is lazy or not worth prodding. They might just genuinely believe themselves to be incapable and decide to not even try. Plant seeds in their minds to let them know they ARE capable. The result might not be today or tomorrow...it might not be for a year or more...but seeds can and do grow. Plant positive seeds early and often for all of your students.  It can be a powerful gift. Thank you Mr. Rose.
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4 comments:

  1. A very touching story...Thank you for sharing it. It takes courage to admit vulnerability.
    And indeed, "you never know when a teacher's influence stops."

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  2. Diane, just this week author Darleen Bailey Beard visited Clegern. She shared her story of how her 5th grade teacher changed her life by a simple comment written on her 5th grade report card. She even shared a photo of the this comment on her report card that she still has after all these years. She told us her personal story of growing up and her struggle to find something she was good at and of her insecurities. This teacher told Darleen that she was a talented writer and this completely turned her life around. She couldn't stress enough the impact a teacher can have on a child with a few simple words of encouragement. Let's hear if for all the amazing teachers out there helping children to believe in themselves! Thank you!

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  3. Hi!
    I am a student at the University of South Alabama and I am in a class called EDM 310 where we learn about blogging and different things. I must say that this was my favorite blog that I've read so far. I totally agree that the gift of "planting seeds" is the most powerful. I'm very happy that this one teacher motivated you to become who you are. Teachers are some of the best people who, I feel, are the most capable of planting seeds in children because they spend the most time with them, besides their parents. Teachers are great influences! One of my biggest goals as a teacher is to reach as many students as I can in a positive way. I want to plant many seeds, just as Mr.Rose planted in you!

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  4. Diane, I so appreciate your story along the way to becoming the powerful teacher that you are today! Thank you for sharing it! On another note, I look forward to the possibility of speaking with you by phone soon and meeting up in person perhaps in the fall for professional development.

    Donna Wilson

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