This is a true story about one of my former students. I was teaching at a high school in the Bitterroot Valley in western Montana.
A disgruntled John entered my classroom on the first day of school. The senior was enrolled in an Accounting class with a room full of other seniors as well as a sprinkling of juniors.
As I was checking in later with each student, John bluntly told me, “I didn’t sign up for this class.”
I told John, “I am sorry to hear about this, but this class is a great one to take. I am looking forward to having you as a student.”
John quickly replied back, “The counselor dumped me in here because I need the credit to graduate.”
John’s stubbornness left him with a poor attitude. His first quarter grade was well below passing as he completed very little of the work. He continued to balk as each new chapter showed up on the class syllabus.
I visited with John’s mother, and she was quite concerned. She had her hands full with John’s noncompliant attitude as well.
An Accounting course works quite a bit like a math class. As each week progresses, students continue to add more building blocks of skill and knowledge related to the previous chapter. John was falling further and further behind.
During the second grading period, John began to show a tiny bit more interest in his performance. After all, he needed to earn a passing grade by the end of the first semester in order to receive credit.
I was beginning to see John’s potential which had been buried under the “chip on his shoulder” about school in general. Through it all, I could see that John was a sharp young man. Therefore, we just needed to find more ways to unlock his potential.
As the semester ended, John squeaked by with a passing grade . . . just barely!
Quote from British writer, C. S. Lewis: “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down the jungles, but to irrigate the deserts.”
I remained patient with John as the second semester began. He seemed more eager to discover himself when he returned to school after Christmas break. I continued to encourage him each day, and made an effort to touch base with him frequently. As the next few weeks continued, we both began to build an improved relationship based upon trust and respect.
As the third grading period progressed, John began to see the light. He was excited about class in ways I had never seen before. There was a genuine enthusiasm in his work as well as his much improved attitude. His failing marks were being replaced with A’s and B’s.
By the end of the third quarter, John was a solid “B” student in Accounting. He pulled me aside and told me one day, “I am really enjoying your class. In fact, I am thinking of taking business courses at college next year.”
He continued to excel and progress through the rest of the school year. I visited with John’s mother before graduation, and she was very proud of her son’s progress. He had matured beyond even her expectations.
In my short teaching career (I was in my fifth year), I had never witnessed such a turnaround as experienced by John. It was amazing and very gratifying to see a student literally catch fire and take off. At the end of the school year, John received my “Most Improved” award. John encouraged me with his own discovery of success.
This story captures the essence of why I found countless rewards from teaching over my 40-year career. I lost track of John long ago, but I feel assured his life turned out quite well.
Originally published May, 2020.