Both Sides, Now

By Judy Berman

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.

I often think of another student, too.

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”

* Photo – Teacher and Students

Photo – teens – Happy Days – Ron Howard – 1974

  1. This is so true. I learned easily. Never had to study. Can you imagine what I could have done had I just studied? I could have found a cure for cancer or maybe world peace. Youth is wasted on the young (and now I am sounding like my Mom!)

    1. Thank goodness, we get many second chances to start anew. I was a late bloomer and am grateful I had the opportunities I did. From your posts, I realize what a positive influence you had where you worked in HR.

  2. It’s amazing what an impact a teacher can have on a child. In my own life, I have had many teachers. I recall few of their names or faces; most were just that mediocre. But the ones that meant something to me? I know their names or their faces. I am grateful that you have had such a positive impact in Suphattra’s life.

    1. Thank you for your comments, Rumpydog. I’m so glad I got to see Suphattra several years after I had her in my class. It’s great for teachers, too, to know that they have made a difference. I only wish I had been able to tell Mrs. Manwaring what a positive difference she made in my life.

  3. I love this, because I was a procrastinating student too. You might have been describing me: and now here I am, a teacher. Life is gently funny 🙂

    1. Experience can be a wonderful teacher if we profit from the lesson. Kate, I tell students that at one time I believed that I worked better under pressure. Once I began doing the work early, I found that it gave me time to polish my work and avoid the stress. I’m actually amazed when a few students have told me that that advice made them rethink what they were doing.

  4. Mom, you could have been talking about me…I wish I had done btter in school. Trying to make up for it now by learning all I can at work. Love you and am glad you are making an impact on these students lives.

    1. When I was at Onondaga Community College (part-time), I discovered that I had some bad study habits I had to overcome in order to do well. In my first semester of Ecology, I earned a “C.” I buckled down and earned an “A” the second semester – same professor, same book. The only thing that changed was my attitude.

      Jenn, I’m glad that you have become a life-long learner. I can tell that you’re happier now with the things – work and being involved with plays – that you’re doing now.

  5. Another procrastinator speaking 😦 I coasted through school with very little effort too. And still have a major starting problem.

    1. I didn’t have to work too hard in many subjects. When I got into subject areas that were demanding, I found I had to work harder because of my poor study skills.
      Madhu, it was pure self preservation for me to get the work done early. Then I didn’t have to worry so much about it.

  6. Hmm, I didn’t do anything in high school at all. Don’t know if you saw this post I did about high school:

    I had to do some SERIOUS catch-up in college. But it was because I learned the hard way. I think it’s great that you’re trying to give them the tools today to help them tomorrow. I honestly can’t remember any teacher in HS giving us any advice like you’re giving. So, good on you for providing the tools to set them up for the future.

    1. Michael, I just re-read your post. Like you, I often found myself working to prove that I did have the right stuff. One teacher, who told me she’d give me a recommendation for college, actually undermined my efforts by writing that I didn’t have the stick-to-itiveness to make it in college.

      I also had to work harder in college. That teacher would be stunned to know that I excelled in my subject area as an undergrad and in graduate school.

      Mrs. Manwaring didn’t throw any stumbling blocks in my way. She only tried to get me to do my best. That’s why I try to pass on to my students the lesson I learned the hard way. For some, that message hits home.

  7. My son and I had a long discussion about teachers from his past. I noticed that his favorite ones all had something in common. They accepted him, unconditionally. There’s a lesson in that for all of us.

    1. Barb, tell your son that I will keep that lesson in mind. School for our students begins tomorrow (Aug. 8th). I’m sometimes puzzled by kids who get along with me – and not their other teachers. That works in reverse, too. Some just don’t get me, but they do their other teachers.

  8. I am blessed to be taught by so many wonderful teachers, one among them was my own mother. I always believe, a good teacher is someone, who not only teaches perfectly but also makes his/her student comfortable and accept them with their weaknesses. Unless a student is comfortable with the teacher and share a special bond which tied with love and respect; how can a teacher turn her students weaknesses to their strengths.

    1. Thank you, Arindam. I appreciate your comments.
      I had a mixed blessing with teachers. Some I appreciated at the time I was in their class. Others, it took me years to realize they were trying their best to help me achieve my potential.
      A student, who was in my class two years ago, told me this week that she got a high score on her state writing test. I congratulated her and told her that she always had that ability. She was surprised. Sadly, she didn’t believe in herself. Maybe, now she does.

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