22: Life Lessons from My Students

22: Life Lessons from My Students

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales

Life Lessons from My Students

Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.

~John Cotton Dana

It is a humbling experience when teachers are the ones who are also learning in their very own classroom. After high school and college, it might seem as if the days of tests and homework are over; however, when 150 students enter those classroom doors, teachers quickly realize that life tests and life homework come right along with the students.

As an educator, I have discovered that the life lessons that students bring with them to school are the ones that I truly need to learn.

I learn about commitment from my students who catch the 6:30 AM community bus because no family member will give them a ride to school.

I learn about perseverance from my student with special needs who is included in my geometry class and comes to tutoring every single morning, and Saturday, because he desperately wants to earn “proficient” on the end of course exam and succeed like his peers.

I learn about strength from my student who has lost both parents and is now watching his last living relative die of cancer, yet still manages to come to school and focus on his classes.

I learn about patience from my student who can only do her homework in morning tutoring because she has to take care of her siblings from the moment the 3:30 bell rings until 10:30 at night.

I learn about compassion from my student who wears the same clothes two days in a row because he tried to stop his mom’s boyfriend from hitting her. They decided to put him out, and he had to sleep in a car.

All of these qualities that I have learned from my students have added up to a philosophy that has shaken my world, transformed my thinking, and has urgently called me to teach every single moment for these students, because they all deserve a future, no matter their circumstances.

This ambitious task of using every single teaching moment to the fullest is not an adventure for the teacher. Instead, it is an adventure for the very life, soul, and purpose of the student.

One story that describes this awesome responsibility starts with a second year sophomore student. Every day, he would come into my Geometry Investigations class, sit in the very back, and avoid eye contact. When I would ask the class questions, I could hear a deep voice coming from his direction saying the correct answer every single time. I immediately began to investigate and found that he had high standardized test scores but his report card and placement in school did not match his state performances. I knew something had to change.

Through our school mentoring program, I asked him if he would like to be a part of a support team that was specifically designed to help him graduate on time with his classmates. This program would require him to come in early every single morning for tutoring and for completing assignments, not just in my class but in all seven classes, and to spend lunchtime not with his friends, but in my classroom studying.

Even after hearing all of the stipulations, he was willing to work diligently in order to change his status from a second year sophomore to a true senior. This extensive two-year endeavor required me to visit all of his classroom teachers, help him complete every assignment, provide him materials to finish projects, and constantly remind him that success could be achieved if he stayed on this path. I challenged him every day, and during his senior year he was able to make the Honor Roll, see his name in the local newspaper, and for the very first time, have his great-grandfather drive to school to pick up his report card.

On a personal note, this student had been living with his great-grandfather instead of living with his mother, her boyfriend, and six siblings. The concept of family had not been demonstrated in his life. However, at school, the mentoring program provided him with a team that focused on his academic needs as well as celebrated his successes. The idea of family, where he was cared for and was seen as important, was able to become a reality.

Unfortunately, during his senior year, his great-grandfather passed away and he had to move back in with his mother, her boyfriend, and his siblings. His grades began to fall drastically, and his newly positive view of life began to wilt. But because of the relationship and the bond that was established over the past two years through the mentoring program, I was able to keep him focused on what he could control to achieve his goal, rather than the numerous obstacles around him that he could not control.

He showed determination and perseverance, and he became a senior with his original class and had the opportunity to graduate with his friends. Sadly, when graduation day approached, he told me that he would not attend the graduation ceremony because no family member would be there to see him walk across the stage to receive his diploma. I told him that he was wrong; because on that day, I would be there as well as his six other teachers who had the unbelievable opportunity to see him transform into a student of self-worth, diligence, and potential.

I can still remember the smile on his face as he walked across that stage to receive his diploma. I still think to myself, what if that moment had never happened? What if his answers were not heard, his story not known, his chance for success not taken? What if the lessons he was trying to teach me were not learned?

The life tests and the life homework that continue to be piled on my desk are definitely a collection of knowledge that has the power to make an everlasting difference in the lives of so many students. Their voices want to be heard and their gifts want to be celebrated. I have learned that lessons are not always meant to be for students. As a teacher, I look forward every year to the lessons my students bring to the classroom, because I know these lives are ready to be changed.

~Susan Waggener
2009 Arkansas State Teacher of the Year
Math, Business Education teacher, grades 10-12

More stories from our partners