Thursday, August 7, 2014

Old School 101: A Teachable Moment – Maybe My Finest

While entering Houston’s Minute Maid Park for the opening night game four months ago, standing at the gate poised to scan the sheet of paper that nowadays passes for a ticket is a familiar face. From my mouth, pretty much of their own accord, spring the words, “Hey, I know you, I taught you!” The young lady gave me a big smile and called me by name. A steady stream of fans – yes, at an Astro game – spared me the discomfort of “chatting up” someone whose name did not come immediately to mind. I did, though, learn that she’d become a middle-school Math teacher. The name came to mind halfway to our seats, and she and I did get to “visit” briefly after the game.

That’s one of the pleasant perks of the teaching profession. I can still recall the “Wow!” I felt the first time a kid told me that he now had a classroom to call his own.

I don’t know what influence, if any, I may have had on the career choice of these two young adults. I do know that I genuinely enjoyed going to work every day, and I’d like to think it showed – far more often than not.

In the old days, teachers were believed to serve “in loco parentis” – that is, “in place of the parent.” And wise parents know that the most crucial results of their work reveal themselves over time, not immediately.

Once in a while, though, some evidence appears more promptly. Let me give you a “for instance.” It involves a boy whose name I’ll never struggle to recall.

Robert was a pistol from Day One – tall, athletic, handsome and plenty bright, accentuated with a charm that bordered on arrogance. He’d evidently breezed through his prior schooling, so the effort and discipline required in a demanding college-prep engineering magnet program was foreign to him. Thus, he was not a “happy camper” and it showed – in various shapes and forms.

I’d met his Mom early on at our Open House, and we’d chatted on several subsequent occasions, even at a couple of football games. She was a very nice and pleasant young lady, but clearly the frustrated parent of a teen-ager. (Is that redundant?)

After school one day early in the spring semester, I stepped into the classroom of a colleague for some reason or other. A handful or so of upperclassmen were wrestling with some calculus. There, too, were Robert (a student in this instructor’s lone freshman Algebra class) and his Mom. The scene and words were all too familiar, student wiggling and jiggling uncomfortably. But when I saw Robert roll his eyes for the second time in about 30 seconds time, I decided to intervene.

Offering a quick apology to my co-worker (a former college prof slightly older than me), I turned to Robert and said the following: “Robert, you’re a real snotty-assed little brat. And you’re going to stay a snotty-assed little brat until the day you realize that the best friend you’ll ever have is standing to your left.”

With that, I informed the teacher I’d come back a little later and returned to my classroom directly across the hallway. About ten minutes later, a head peeped into my room. “Thank you.” It was Robert’s Mom.

I haven’t crossed paths with Robert or his parent since the end of the 2006-2007 school year – he didn’t return to the program for his sophomore year. (To quote the illustrious high-school basketball coach Bob Hurley, Sr., “What we do here isn’t for everyone; that’s why doors have hinges.”)

Robert’s class was on schedule to graduate from college this year.

Who knows … maybe he’ll become a Math teacher.