Lasting Lessons as the School Year Ends

education - Uncertain Future - taken 2009 by Daniel Teoli Jr

By Judy Berman

At times, I’ve had to concede to a student’s superior skills in classroom disruption and turn him or her over to the dean.

Others, I bask in the sunshine they spread wherever they go.

Over the years, I’ve had many great kids in my classroom. Sometimes, however, the misbehavior of a few overshadows that. It shouldn’t.

Those rare gloomy gray clouds were dispersed this week by two events: A student that I last saw in 2009 stopped in to visit me and thanked me for helping him learn English. Another apologized for her behavior earlier this year.

The first student, J.R., is a native of the Dominican Republic. When he first entered my class, he knew very little English.

I made an agreement with J.R.’s uncle and father to tutor him once a week at the uncle’s house over the summer.

His uncle asked me what I’d charge. “My price? Someone has to speak to me in Spanish.” He probably thought that was funny, but he did and that helped me as well.

His younger brother and sister joined us at the kitchen table as we played word games, created crossword puzzles and read. One of our favorites was the cartoon book, “Calvin and Hobbes.”

When I heard J.R. explain a cartoon in Spanish to his father and grandmother, I knew he got it. If he had trouble understanding something in a story, I explained that.

As the 2009 summer ended, I was sad to learn that he’d be moving and would be attending another school.

This week, his sister, who I taught last year, told me her brother was coming to visit me.

J.R. brought me a Snickers bar and great news. He just graduated from high school and is looking forward to going to college.

And the books I gave him? He passed those on to his siblings this year.

Teacher and students

Sometimes, it’s a challenge forging that positive bond. I question: Is it me? Is it the student? If it’s me, what do I need to do to improve the student-teacher relationship?

This year was no different. There were a couple of students who were determined to remain indifferent to learning. Sad to say, at times, I was THAT student when I was in high school.

Then, there was this bright, chatty, bubbly, outgoing girl who wasn’t working to her full potential.

To cut down on the talking, I moved her seat. Something she was resistant to. A call home did help. Her mother was supportive, and I did see a positive change in behavior.

Over the past few months, she became more engaged in classroom discussions and helped me in class.

The last two days of school, she surprised me. She drew a picture in crayons of us, titling it “BFF since ’09.” (“Best friends forever.” The ’09 part was a gag because we’ve only known each other since August 2013.)

On the last day of school, I visited another teacher’s class. She was there and showed me a red paper heart she’d made. On it, she wrote an apology to me.

She asked me not to read it until after I left the room.

Alone in my classroom, I read her note and was touched by her thoughtfulness. Then, I returned to thank her and told her – joking – that I went thru a tissue box.

That moment when students “get it,” when they realize that teachers really want the best for them … is beautiful, indeed.

My best wishes to all students as you begin the next chapter of your life. Enjoy your journey.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Main Photo: Education – “Uncertain Future” – taken in 2009 by Daniel Teoli Jr.

Photo: Teacher and Students – Teacher working with students at Albany Senior High School, New Zealand. Author: Mosborne01

Music Video: “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince (Will Smith) 

  1. I never taught kids (as I would have killed them) but I did corporate training in 3 different companies and adult education in our community college. Looking back I understand now how much I enjoy teaching because seeing that “aha” moment is fabulous. I wasn’t particularly patient with children so I was best suited to adults. It’s great to have teachers like you. As I think back to my youth I can count on one hand the number of teachers I had who incited a passion in me.

    1. Kate … Even the mischievous kids tickle me, but I rarely let on. The ones who disrupt, however, can be a real challenge.

      It’s great when I hear from former students and know how I’ve helped them. But I’m far from being the “Carpe Diem” (Robin Williams in “The Dead Poets Society”) or “Mr. Holland’s Opus” teacher … Still, like you said, seeing that “aha” moment is truly wonderful. 😉

  2. Stories like these are what kept me fired up in the classroom. Just substitute the names and the details: the experience is universal for most devoted teachers, I think. I missed teaching after I retired so much that I felt compelled to return for another semester just to taste the interaction with students one more time. But all the essay grading did me in, and I was cured. Now I teach 2-year-olds at my church, and of course the grand-children, every chance I get.

    THis post took me down memory lane, very nostalgic indeed.

    1. Thanks for your kind comments, Tracy. I know the teachers who I think of fondly decades after I’ve left school. Sometimes, all it was is they REALLY listened, supported and/or encouraged me to pursue my dreams. 😉

    1. My Dad and I both love “Calvin & Hobbes” because it’s so delightfully warped. Funny you should ask about my Spanish-speaking skills, Barbara. J.R. asked the same. It’s shaky. I go back and forth between learning French (went to Paris last year) and Spanish. This year I’ll be studying Italian. So I may never master any language – not even English. 😆

  3. You said it beautifully for all of us teachers, Judy. Graduation is a time for us to wave the diplomas of our graduation to another level of understand and commitment with our students.

    After my 30th year, I retired. I went nonstop straight out of college, taking off only one semester when my daughter was born because I was divorced and a single parent at the time. What I still miss most is that connection, the genuine caring about the students, and the wonderful feeling when they “get it”! Last year I got a thank you note from the daughter of a student I’d taught in junior American lit many years ago. The student had moved to Canada, had four children, and then when she was in her early 30s she died of ovarian cancer. I didn’t know this until her daughter wrote to me, sending the note to my old high school and they forwarded it on to me. The daughter said she found her mother’s diary from her junior year in high school when I was pregnant and going through a divorce, and in her diary she made several references to things I’d said or done that helped her keep from drowning during that desperate time in her life. She said she’d decided that if I could survive and thrive and encourage others while going through what was happening to me, then she could, too.
    We just never know, Judy, when what we do makes a profound difference in the lives of those we teach. Remember that. Sometimes the student in the 3rd row, 5th seat back who seems fine and semi-involved in the literature and discussions is actually clinging to a lifeline.

    1. Thank you for your beautiful comments and understanding, Marilyn. What an excellent feeling to know the impact you had on that young girl’s life during a difficult time she was having.

      Over the years, I’ve known a few students who were going thru significant challenges: homelessness, poverty and all that entails, their parents’ divorce or separation, abuse and more. Sometimes, all you can do is just be a good listener and be supportive of positive strides they’re making. When it all goes south, that’s when I’m the most disheartened and feel that my energy is depleted.

      A story of hope is of a little boy who is throwing starfish back into the ocean. An old man asks: “What are you doing?” The boy says: “I’m throwing them back in the ocean or they will die.” The man tells him: “You can’t save them all. There are thousands of them washed up on the beach.” The boy picks up another starfish and throws it into the ocean, responding: “I made a difference to that one.”

      This is what I try to hold on to. I can make a difference to some.

  4. You put a lot of heart and soul into your job Judy!♥ That’s so lovely to read about it, and if only every teacher went about their teaching in the way that you do, the world would be a much better place!! 😀 So many young people have real resentment towards their teachers and their school days in general, and if they are unhappy at home too it can result in a very destructive person either inwardly or outwardly.

    I have to admit I really hated school right from the start of day one, it was a very vindictive teacher that caused that hate. And I was unlucky to meet quite a few of those during my school days! 😦 But, I did meet a few exceptional ones much later on, who had a very positive effect on me, and I’m really grateful for having met those – they restored my belief in teachers, and made me realise some are crazy and some are not, and that is how life is – very much a lucky dip, you never know who you will be dealing with next! But reading what you have written here makes me very sad that I never had the confidence to go back before they had retired to say what a good teacher they were – and give a special thanks for not being abusive! 😉 And it’s lovely to hear that some of your students came to communicate with you in one way or another how much they appreciated you. I think I’d find that quite emotional, I’d definitely get into that box of tissues!

    So you can speak Spanish now? That was a good deal Judy!! 😀 I had a teacher at one time who came to my home to teach me in between going to another school, and she was a wonderful woman, the most precious experience I ever had with a teacher. If my parents had been able to afford to pay her to teach me for a few hours a week, that would have been amazing , she seemed to understand how I didn’t understand and there was a LOT I couldn’t understand at age 13. I’m glad to say I did actually get the chance to meet her again, and thank her for her invaluable help in my mid 20’s at a church my mother was attending. We recognised each other in the congregation – big smiles and a lot of laughter were exchanged on how I was in those teen years!

    I was one of those chatterbox’s in the classroom, always being told off for being a great communicator at all the wrong times! 😉 So, were you a chatterbox, or were you just not interested in what you needed to learn? And what would your teachers say if they could see you now?!! I’m sure they would be surprised! 🙂

    1. Suzy … I always feel your posts are like a warm, lovely letter from home. There are probably a few students who resent me for trying to get them to focus on why they should be in school: to learn, not socialize. Some others, thankfully, either tolerate the lesson and me, and/or appreciate what I’m trying to get them to achieve.

      I’ve been fortunate to have had some excellent teachers. I regret that I was too late to tell a couple of them how much I appreciated them. I’ve also had a teacher or two who seemed to have it in for me for reasons I was never able to fathom. One of them, I liked and asked if she’d give me a recommendation to college. She said ‘yes.’ After I was turned down by 3 schools of nursing, my Mom called – long distance – to find out why. She was told the reason was the teacher’s ‘recommendation.’ The teacher wrote that I did not have the stick-to-itiveness to make it thru college. I wish that I’d gone back to tell her she was wrong AFTER I graduated from community college, then a four-year college, and later from my master’s program. I attended those colleges on a part-time basis for financial reasons and I was raising a family and working.

      My Spanish skills improved, but I’m better at reading it then speaking it. Still lack confidence to carry on a conversation. My French is in the same stages. 😉 I’m glad you had the opportunity to connect with that teacher. I’m sure she was delighted to hear from you.

      Now, the tale that must be told. I was an unrepentant chatterbox. 😉 I seem to recall that I spent much of my 5th grade out in the hall … for talking. At times, I also was a disinterested student. Some of my teachers would probably roll over in their graves if they knew I became a teacher. 😉 My aim was not to repeat the sins of the bad ones, but to strive to be like those I most admired. (One that I most admired expected me to become a writer.)

      1. Thank you for the compliment Judy! A comment should feel like a warm letter from home! In my head I often think I need to rush round because I can’t spend too much time making lengthy comments – but do I do that? Never! I find once I’ve read the post I’m drawn in, and I’m there ages making comments and the housework and other writing I need to do is on hold again. But blogs should be like that, if they don’t draw you in there is something very wrong! 🙂

  5. Enjoyed this very much Judy. Every one of your students, even the disruptive ones, must be grateful and appreciative of your commitment and passion.

    1. At times, maybe. Others, sometimes, they just want to be anywhere but in any classroom. As they get older, they may grow to appreciate schooling more. I did. 😉

  6. Despite all the negativity that has been going on in education, you perfectly described the essence of teaching. It isn’t about content or test scores, it is about positively impacting the lives of your students – sometimes that positive impact is a passing test score and sometimes it’s something less quantifiable and even more important. I’ve been teaching for 20 years and have been blessed to have many “warm fuzzy” moments. I cherish every single one of them. Enjoy your summer break, Judy!

  7. The teachers who pushed us the hardest were the ones I came to appreciate — years later. It took time, but I eventually realized that they cared about my education, and that meant they cared about me. I’m sure your students feel the same way.

    1. Charles … I loved learning things that weren’t in the textbooks and am forever grateful to those teachers who knew how to engage us. I did work harder in those classes and often found them more enjoyable. I do hope mine feel the same way. 😉

  8. A post that brings hope and lots of smiles. Teachers are blessings from heaven. Students never fail to surprise and inspire us. Reading your post helped me remember my teachers and how happy they look when we show appreciation and good progress in school. Have a great weekend my friend.

    1. Sometimes teachers learn years later about how they made a difference in their students’ lives. I wish that I had told more of my teachers how much I appreciated them. Thank you for your kind words, Island Traveler. I hope you and your family have a wonderful weekend, too. 😉

  9. My husband is a teacher, and many of our friends are teachers. This year, our younger daughter’s first year (1 year position) was at my husband’s school. I know it’s the moments when you see a student “get it” or when you discover that you made a difference in their lives that makes it all worthwhile. It sounds like you are a wonderful teacher!

    1. Thank you for the vote of confidence, Merril. There are days when I feel like, ‘yeah, maybe I did make a difference.’ And, others, when I’m just banging my head on the wall, questioning the wisdom of my career move 10 years ago. 😉
      Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

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