Ranting About "Rights" vs. "Right"

I promise not to rant often on this blog, but I have counted to ten. I counted to 100. Then I waited a while. It started with the school employee in the news, whom I hesitate to call a teacher, who said it was her First Amendment Right to disparage her students on Facebook. I’m not even going to address the legalities here. I just know that even if it is within her rights, it is not right. While I’ve waited to cool off, I’ve run into similar examples. I’ve had enough and will have my say. I have the right since this is my blog!

I can only guess these people did not have my favorite education professor who asked for complete silence one day so she could tell us something very important. She said, “Any good teacher will reach 85% of the students in her [his] classroom. The master teacher figures out how to reach that other 15%.” She knew, as all teachers should know, that some students are challenging. I’ve had my share and lost track long ago of how many times an administrator told me a challenging child was placed in my room “because you can handle him/her.” Not one of these students deserved a public rebuke. Much more effective was that quiet one-on-one conference at my desk!

One of my favorite school stories is about one of these challenges that I will call Fred. School lunch chatter for the second grade teachers on Tuesday during the beginning of school teacher prep week revolved around Fred who had only been in the school for the last six weeks of first grade – long enough. There were rumors that he’d been thrown off a preschool bus for his behavior and that military MPs were often called to deal with him in his neighborhood.  The question was, “Who will get Fred this year?” I’d only substituted in the school the year before and assumed he would be assigned to a longtime teacher.  

Wednesday morning the counselor met me at the door, “Virginia, there’s this little boy who was in first grade last year. I gave this a lot of thought, and I’ve decided you are what he needs this year.” I assured her that she didn’t need to give me his name, that I had already heard about him. I remembered Dr. Burris’s 15%.

It was a good school, and I received both moral and practical support to work with Fred. We had our ups and downs, but for every step back, we seemed to make two steps forward. I will never forget the spring day when he stood at my desk for me to grade his spelling dictation paper with seven sentences about 12 – 15 words long. He hadn’t missed a word, a capital letter, or a punctuation mark. As I wrote the “100” on his paper and added my happy face with the curlicue at the top, he focused his clear blue eyes on my face and said, “My mama’s going to be so proud of me.”

My neighborhood school is reving up with teacher’s cars in the parking lot and maintenance men working on school buses. I know many of these teachers, and they work by the Burris Philosophy, facing a new year with more anticipation than dread.

And I promise, my next blog will not be a rant, but a look at another kind of teacher who made a difference to me.