My 7th and 8th graders just read a story about a terrible teacher. She is strict and bony with witch's eyes; she makes the students march to their rigidly lined-up desks and tells them their spelling indicates they will become dregs of society.
(This was written before Facebook statuses made it easy to keep grammatical errors on permanent display. I still don't think the kids believe me when I tell them that there are people out there who will rank your intelligence by your writing. Also, they really don't believe that résumés with typos get thrown out. Sometimes I don't even believe it myself. I once proofread a résumé for a someone. After I'd marked it with a thousand friendly corrections and suggested that it be retyped, that person told me, "Well, I don't really care; I'll just turn it in like this." The next day, she got the job.)
Anyway, we began our reading yesterday by talking about the characteristics that make a good teacher. (This was partially compelled by an oh, crap moment: the mom in the story reflects on the school's welcoming atmosphere--but lack of rigorous grammar instruction. We all acknowledged that good teacher must exert equal parts strictness and compassion. I then mentally willed them not to tell their parents that their English teacher struggles with a severe imbalance. I'll let you guess which side is not my strong suit. :)
The story ends with the kids stripping the leaves from the teacher's plant, an act of defiance. With teary eyes, she tells them that her aim was only to make them better citizens; if just one of them... And the slapdash little hero steps up to the desk, spelling correctly (for the very first time) the word "flower."
"Teachers are people, too," I told them (to which a boy cheekily responded, "What? Teachers don't sleep here?"), "--and we're going to write thank you cards to some of the teachers in this building." The point was reflection and encouragement, and I didn't expect to be a recipient of many of the cards, especially since I was trying to point them toward other staff members. Still, at the end of the period, one boy handed me a big, white sheet of folded paper, filled with crunched-up pencil letters.
This boy completely bombed last week's test; I'd allowed him to retake it. Entering my room 7th period, his face was wound up with trepidation. "What'd I get? What'd I get?" I handed him the test, which, averaged alongside the other test, scooted his grade up to a cool number in the lower 70's. Still, he let out a giant, "YEEESSSSSSSSS!" and left the room, grinning in Cheshire fashion.
Earlier that day, I had read his card: Dear Ms. C Thanks for giving me an extra try. In the English test you are an awesome English Teacher thanks for all.
That's exactly how he spelled it, full of random capital letters and weird punctuation, and grammar and writing and good communication are what I came here to teach. But, I am learning over and over, they're not the most important thing.