64: Not in My Class

64: Not in My Class

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales

Not in My Class

In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.

~Bertrand Russell

“Please don’t put that child in my class!” It was partly a prayer to God and partly a silent request to the third-grade teachers. I knew that they would be deciding how to distribute next year’s fourth graders among the three teachers, and I was sure I wouldn’t be able to love Danny.

“How can a teacher be any good if she doesn’t love her students?” I had wondered. I know that children have an uncanny sense about when they are really liked, and I didn’t want to try to teach a student who could tell I didn’t like him.

Every school-day afternoon for three years I had observed Danny. He turned up his nose at classmates, made faces at teachers when their heads were turned, and pouted when corrected. “I will not be able to put up with that,” I fumed. “I cannot have him in my classroom.”

During the following summer, as always, I asked God to put the students in my room who I would be able to teach effectively. As I pulled weeds or washed windows or relaxed on the porch with a glass of tea, I wondered who they would be. Would there be new students? Would I get the cute little girl with the big eyes? The funny little boy with the adorable smile? The good readers? The natural actors? Surely I wouldn’t get Danny; God knew I could not take Danny.

When August rolled around and faculty reported for in-service, each team of teachers met to compile class lists for the next grade. Since we knew the children, we knew who would work well together, which parents would be good for parties and field trips, which students would require extra attention, and who could be counted on to be teachers’ helpers. We strove to put together good, balanced classes, ever aware that someone else was doing the same for us.

When all the lists were complete, our principal went over them for final approval, and that was that. The fact that we didn’t have any part in choosing our students was really a protection for us as well as the children; we could not be pressured into including a certain child on our roster, and no student was used in any kind of deal. We trusted one another and our principal, but awaited these lists with high anticipation, eager not only to see who we would spend the school year with, but also to get started making name tags for desks and preparing displays to welcome our new students.

When Mrs. Harmon brought my list, I held my breath as I scanned the names. Some were unfamiliar to me. That was always fun; I enjoyed introducing new students to the class and helping them feel at home in a new school. There were also some names that made me smile—children I had watched over the years and already loved. Then… I could hardly believe my eyes! The one child I knew I couldn’t teach was right there on my list. Instantly his round face—complete with that smirky, self-satisfied smile—flashed on the screen of my mind. “I cannot love this child!” I thought. “Surely there is a mistake.” All those prayers for the class that was right for me, and now this.

But I was a professional. I took a few moments to feel sorry for myself, and got back to work. I would make the name tags, finish my bulletin boards, plan interesting lessons, and hope for the best. I had a brand new room that year in a new building. I wasn’t about to let this little setback ruin my excitement.

Then came the first week of school. In the midst of discussing summer reading, diagnosing math needs, and making final decisions for field trips, my Danny dilemma was temporarily forgotten. We were all learning to work together. On an outing to a pond for some hands-on study, students shared magnifying glasses, nets, and pencils. Walking along a path through the woods and sitting around picnic tables with our lunch gave me a chance to get to know each child better—including Danny. I was not surprised to find that he was intelligent, but didn’t expect him to have such a good sense of humor. Maybe he grew up a lot over the summer, I mused.

When Danny got into a fight with Joe, one of our newcomers, I discovered something else. Like a good teacher, I heard both sides of the story before taking the boys to the principal. Although I could not condone fighting, it did seem to me that Danny made some convincing points. When I saw scratch marks on his neck from the tussle, I felt very protective toward him. Could it be that I was learning to actually like the boy?

And that’s how it happened. Again and again I found myself drawn to Danny and noticing more and more of his good points. By the end of the year, I could honestly say, “I love that boy!” It was one of those little ironies that make teaching so interesting. Danny eventually, of course, moved on to fifth grade, and in a few years I moved over to high school English.

To my delight, one August day I looked at my new class rosters for senior English and recognized many of the names, one of them Danny’s. It would be interesting, I thought, to see how he had turned out. I found that Danny still had a clever sense of humor and an impressive vocabulary that made his essays a delight to read. We had a good year together, built on the foundation from years earlier. During class one day, I realized that Danny, who appeared to be studiously following along in the text, was instead reading a paperback concealed in his English book. I took the book from him and dropped it into my desk drawer. Many weeks later, near the end of the year, Danny stayed after class.

“Can I have my book back?”

“Yes. I hope you understand why I took it.”

“Yes, ma’am. I shouldn’t have been reading it. I’m sorry for the way I acted.”

“I appreciate your good attitude. You know I like you, Danny.”

“Yes, ma’am. I know”

As he walked out the door, I remembered my frantic hopes that this boy would not be in my class, and I had to smile. He had grown into a dignified young man who would certainly make us proud—one of those unexpected delights that come over and over to those who teach.

~Sherry Poff

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