Imagine, the year is 1964; you are entering into the sixth grade. While it is a pleasant day, every fiber of your being realizes that something is different about this opening day of school. Your parents did not prepare you for this. The air is so thick that you can barely breathe. As you look around you can clearly see that, for the first time since you have been going to school, some of the students are African American. You see, my sixth grade year was to be the first year for segregation in the Marion County Schools. Lebanon Elementary was going through the changes that our country was going through. History was being made right before my eyes.
To make matters worse I must tell you, I was not much of a student. I was entering into the sixth grade and for the love of life I could not tell you how they passed me through the first five years of school. You see there were five of us in my family and I was the oldest. I did not have older siblings to lead the way and give me a clue as to why I was in school. My twin brother and I were sent to school unprepared, and I can tell you that even after five years of school, I did not know why I was here. But, I knew that I was falling further and further behind. Luckily though, I was figuring out this reading stuff. It made good sense to me, and it took me places that I had never been.
I can still remember being assigned the first seat in the first row. It was scary because no matter what I did, the rest of the class would certainly be able to see me. But, I had to turn around in order to see what was really going on in that classroom. My teachers name was Ms. Kessler. She looked like the oldest woman I had ever seen. The only thing bluer than her piercing eyes was her hair. While it is easy for me to be compassionate about her circumstances today, I only felt sorry for myself on that day. I knew that it was going to be a tough year and that I was not going to enjoy any part of it.
Each day though, I noticed that Ms. Kessler was spending more and more time at students’ desk. She even spent time at my desk. She was very strict, and very firm, but she spent time with individuals on an individual basis. She was obviously very serious about our academic achievement.
I will never forget the note on my first report card. “Are you serious about your learning?” Right there on my report card, for the entire world to see, I had a serious question that Ms. Kessler had taken the time to write. I knew by now that the only way to answer Ms. Kessler was with my actions. She had heard every excuse that is known to man kind.
But, to tell you the truth, I was so unprepared that it was not going to be an overnight miracle. On my next report card she wrote “Have you ever thought about studying?” Honestly the thought never crossed my mind. With five kids at home and both of my parents working full time, I did not have any pressure to do anything except clean my room.
I took Ms. Kessler’s words seriously. I became serious about my studies and I started to spend time studying at home. I even started teaching my brothers and sisters because I did not want them to get behind.
Ms. Kessler noticed a change right away. She actually started writing nice notes on my papers. I almost caught her smile one day. She had that special look in her eye, that look of approval.
Now it was not all perfect. After all I was a 6th grade boy. I remember one day we were in what I thought was a discussion, she said to me: “Who do you think you are, some kind of New York Lawyer?” I knew from the firmness of her voice that I did not need to answer that question, but she did make me think. And from that day forward I knew that I wanted to do just that, get other people to think.
Many years have passed since my sixth grade year, and now I am posed with this assignment: Describe what you consider to be your greatest contributions and accomplishments in education.
With thirty two years of experience, nothing has changed. My greatest contributions are simple. I could speak to you about my district, regional, and state championships in the sport of wrestling. I could tell you of the impact that I personally had on each one of them. I could tell you about the awesome speech and drama students that I have had the pleasure to teach and coach. But it always comes back to the truth. The truth is that my greatest contribution has been in the classroom. God has blessed me with the most outstanding gift. I have the gift of caring for human beings on an individual basis. I truly am interested in teaching each and every student. Each student is special to me and deserves my complete devotion and attention. My greatest contribution is that I find out where they are and I take them to a higher level of understanding. My greatest contribution is that I get them to think.