As I begin another year of teaching, the Joni Mitchell song, “Both Sides, Now,” popped into my head.
“I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From WIN and LOSE and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all.”
Two students come to my mind. One spoke little English when she entered my class. By the end of that school year, she easily spoke English. The other student made little effort to learn a second language.
The first student was from Thailand. She saw me about four years later, when I entered a restaurant where she worked part time.
“Mrs. Berman, do you remember me?” she asked, her voice beginning to break.
I would know Suphattra anywhere. She was so shy when she first joined my class. We exchanged notes thru a journal that I asked her to keep. In it, she told me a little about herself and I did the same. This was done to build a student’s skills in writing and reading.
In her notebook, Suphattra asked questions about something she didn’t understand in class. And, I would respond. She was a very eager learner.
We also drew cartoons and posted little pictures. I was surprised – weeks later – when her boss brought out Suphattra’s notebook. She had kept it all this time. I was delighted to know that exchange, our writings, had meant that much to her.
She just dug in her heels and stubbornly refused to do her homework or study a second language. Detentions meant missing out on hanging with her friends at a diner near school. Failing grades also didn’t convince her that she needed to buckle down. She was locked in a battle of wills. She had to cram for her final exam – which she passed.
That second student was me.
My high school French teacher, Mrs. Pauline Manwaring, did teach me a valuable lesson. One that I never had an opportunity to thank her for – and, now, it’s too late. She died in 1995.
That lesson was: Do not procrastinate. Get the basics down and build on what you’ve learned.
I applied that lesson when I learned shorthand and, later, when I studied Spanish in college and French on my own.
During Mrs. Manwaring’s classes, I can recall her telling only one joke. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she shared her story. Somehow, I expect she’d have a similar reaction if she knew what lengths I went to learn French before my first visit to Paris.
I wonder if she’d chuckle if she knew I am an English (Language Arts) teacher, and work with some students whose first language is not English.
Or, maybe, Mrs. Manwaring would just smile, knowing that not all students come into their own at the same time. That’s what I think of as students enter my class each new school year.
Having been in the classroom, as a student and a teacher, I do see both sides clearly now.
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* Link to Joni Mitchell’s song, “Both Sides, Now” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcrEqIpi6sg
* Photo – Teacher and Students http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/25/Ashs-teacher-and-students.jpg
Photo – teens – Happy Days – Ron Howard – 1974 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3d/Ron_Howard_Happy_Days_1974.JPG/640px-Ron_Howard_Happy_Days_1974.JPG