Lessons

I had two great lessons for teaching but the greatest came to me as a ‘gotcha’. Like all teachers, I had extensive course work in teaching methods. I took in-service classes and advanced courses to keep current in the latest techniques and processes.

I had excellent high school teachers; well, all but the one who kicked me out of class. She was probably a good teacher but her standards were from a generation or so before mine. I broke one of her classroom standards; but I didn’t know it was a standard. It was a never explained expectation. Sort of like the ‘you understood’ when she said, “Go to the principal’s office!”

OK, there was another teacher I really didn’t like. However, in retrospect, she taught me a great lesson.

I’ll give up my generation to reveal theirs. I was graduated from high school in 1955. My graduation should have been 1954 but that’s another story and has nothing to do with teachers.

My great lesson came when I was a high school freshman but I didn’t apply it until I became a teacher 25 years later.

I was at least one level below poor in spelling. Science report grades we were lowered for spelling errors so about mid-semester I decided to improve my spelling grades, thus my science grades. I worked very hard and memorized the twenty-five words for that week in English class.

The day of the weekly test, a Thursday as I remember, we listened to the teacher recite the words and wrote them on a special spelling pad. I knew we would pass our papers forward or backward to another student for correction so to ensure the corrector could read my words I did them in the forbidden printing. Teacher spelled each word, we checked and the papers were passed back. Teacher read our names and we responded with our score.

Each of the others with whom I had studied scored well and I announced the first 100% on a spelling test I could remember. She asked me to stand. In my naiveté, I expected her to congratulate me. Instead she said, “I don’t know how you did it Benson but I’m sure you must have cheated. Be here after school for a retake!”

After school, I tried to explain that I had studied with several others who scored high or 100%. She didn’t accept my explanation. She read the words in a different order and I printed. She chided me for not using cursive on the original and the retake. I skipped school that Friday and got my paper back on Monday. I scored 25 of 25 again but she had marked it, “74% – maximum score on retake!” In those days, 74 was a “D” grade.

I should have studied hard and proved her wrong on the next test; however, I speculated the same treatment. I skipped her class several times that semester and never put in the same effort for a spelling test even with another teacher the next semester. It was a great lesson; when I became a teacher, I vowed to never humiliate a student.

What I consider my greatest lesson came to me when I was a first year shop teacher.

A freshman student who could not be held after school had been absent for several required quizzes so I assigned a five-page report on a technology topic of his choice.

He asked, “What kind of paper?”

I told him, “Lined notebook paper, one side only, one space between writing, standard English class heading.”

“Is spiral notebook paper OK?”

I told him that would be fine as long as he trimmed off the rough edges after removing them from his notebook.

The next morning, as I was taking role, he handed me his report. His name and report title were in the standard format and the rough edges from being torn out of the spiral binding were neatly trimmed.

The report was a full five pages from a 3 x 5-inch spiral notebook. I couldn’t say a thing – he knew I didn’t specify the size of the paper. I was tested and my prior great lesson came into play. He scored a gotcha and there were no repercussions.

I’m sure the student whose name I don’t remember remembers the gotcha as well as I do. Acceptance of well-timed and appropriate humor became a standard part of my teaching.

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