25: Connecting

25: Connecting

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales


The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught, as that every child should be given the wish to learn.

~John Lubbock

When I entered college in the early 1980s, I had my heart set on being a first grade teacher. I did all of my observations in others’ first-grade classrooms. I student taught first grade, and I interviewed for my first job… in a first-grade classroom. Needless to say, I was delighted when the district offered me a job… as a fifth grade teacher in an inner-city building, considered at the time to be one of our district’s toughest assignments. It wasn’t the first-grade classroom I had hoped for, but it was MY classroom!

I was prepared for the curriculum I would teach, and even the social issues I would encounter, but in a classroom of fifth graders, there will always be something you’re not prepared for, especially as a first year teacher.

I navigated through my first year fairly successfully, while working to form relationships with my students in an effort to keep one step ahead of them, which was no easy feat! There was one child in particular, Alexander, who I just couldn’t seem to connect with. He was a special needs student who had learning disabilities in both math and reading. He rarely bathed, his clothes were filthy, and the other children were sometimes very cruel to him. He was a difficult child to get to open up, but I was dogged in my efforts.

You can imagine my delight when finally, in late spring, Alexander raised his hand during math class. Not only did it go up, but it was accompanied by “Ooh, ooh, ooh,” as he waved it frantically. Thrilled that Alexander was eager to participate in our discussion for the first time ever, I immediately called on him.

Well, you can imagine my surprise when he suddenly lunged into a story about his grandma, whom he was excited to tell us, had a hole in her head. You see, we were studying fractions that day, and I had just explained that a fraction is “a part of a whole.” Alexander obviously didn’t realize the difference between W-hole and H-ole. “Homophones,” I told myself, “had better be tomorrow’s English lesson!”

Acknowledging Alexander that day was exactly what he needed from me. We had suddenly bonded. Alexander felt such a connection to me after that, that he even went one step further.

I arrived at the school the following morning and was genuinely surprised to find Alexander and his grandma waiting for me. Grandma began by saying, “Alexander said he told you that I have a hole in my head.” I smiled nervously and said, “Don’t worry. You know kids! They have great imaginations!” Grandma replied, “You didn’t believe him, did you?” “No, of course not,” I stammered. Well, just that quick, Grandma proudly popped out her glass eye, revealing that she truly did have a hole in her head!

I will never forget that day, and the lessons that I learned from being Alexander’s teacher. He taught me:

1. Students with learning disabilities can connect to a word or phrase, even if it is a homophone, and then just need to vocalize their thoughts.

2. I can connect with the hard-to-reach students if I allow them to speak when they are ready to.

3. The child who sits by himself, who is shunned by his peers, and who appears to be “on another planet” most days, may just be waiting for the right moment to share something with you. He is testing you to see if you really do care about him.

4. We need to look beyond the “package” that our students and their families come wrapped in, so that we can see inside them, and find out what motivates them.

5. If a child ever again tells me about a family member with a hole in his or her head… BELIEVE HIM!

~Tania L. Harman
2009 Indiana State Teacher of the Year
Elementary teacher, grades 1-2

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