63: Clinton

63: Clinton

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales


Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement, all success, all achievement in real life grows.

~Ben Stein

I have spent the past nineteen years teaching a wide range of mathematical concepts and skills. In that time, I figure I have taught the quadratic equation approximately 100 times, the Pythagorean Theorem at least as many times and I have certainly lost count of how often I have worked out the slope of a line on a chalk-board. I would like to think I did a fantastic job each and every time I presented those concepts to my students. Ironically, I don’t have a strong recall of any of those instances. What I do have are powerful memories of specific students who touched me in a very real and personal way.

Faces and names beyond count have come and gone in my classroom. I truly believe in the new three R’s of education—Relationships, Relevance and Rigor. Building quality relationships with my students is the key to my success as a classroom teacher. Sometimes, those relationships forged in the classroom are the difference makers for a student. I have been fortunate to watch many of my past students go on and become successful and happy. Each one has enriched me in some way. However, the most significant lesson I have learned came from one very special student.

Clinton was a great example of the student every teacher loves to have in class. He was the only student at school who was awarded scholarships from three different school-based groups including the administration, the certified teaching staff and the classified support staff. Looking back into Clinton’s past, one would see that he had traveled far. An immigrant from the Philippines at the age of twelve, Clinton and his family worked hard to become legal citizens. I had Clinton for two years in high school. His future looked bright and he had his whole life in front of him. Knowing his family had limited English skills, I helped Clinton with his scholarships and applications. All of us were very proud when he announced he wanted to study to be a teacher because we knew he would impact students’ lives in the future.

Unfortunately, Clinton never made it to college. Just two days after he graduated from high school, Clinton was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. It was a terminal diagnosis and the doctors held little hope that cancer treatments would do more than prolong the eventual outcome. We were heartbroken. Clinton would never attend college. He would never teach. He would never marry. He would never have children.

Clinton’s teachers and friends responded in the only way we knew how. We extended a hand of help and comfort to Clinton and his family. Fundraising activities were organized at the school and many of us helped the family navigate the complex avenues of the health care system. “Pack the Track” became a huge celebration of Clinton’s life and what he represented to his friends at school, teachers and other community members. In the end, over $8,000 was raised at this event. Bills were paid, paperwork filed and many an hour was spent by Clinton’s side in the hospital as his body deteriorated.

Clinton passed on October 16th. Those of us who had worked with Clinton at school of course were deeply saddened by his death. But, Clinton’s experience also awakened a realization for us that the true mission of our school is beyond the factual knowledge and skills we teach to students. We are helping youngsters learn to grow and mature into caring people—people who value relationships as the key to a good life. And the three R’s??? If teachers don’t constantly work to build positive relationships with students, then we are failing those very same students. Clinton proved to me that relationships are the key. A T-shirt was sold to help raise funds for Clinton’s medical care. On the front of that shirt was the following: “Love is a verb.” For all of us who knew and loved Clinton, we have come to act on that statement and we believe that it will make all the difference in the world.

~Cindy Couchman
2009 Kansas State Teacher of the Year
Math teacher, grades 9-12

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