Teaching
8:07 am
Fri July 19, 2013

Classroom Contemplations: A Student, On The Value A Teacher Added

Originally published on Thu July 18, 2013 2:45 pm

While most of these stories about the values teachers add come from the teacher’s point of view, I thought it would be interesting to hear one from a student.

Benny Rawlings went to a middle school in Miami.

“It was not a great school,” he said. “There were hallways you couldn’t walk down.  You either had to find somewhere to hide or find strength in numbers.”

This environment was part of the reason that Benny joined a gang.

But that didn’t mean he gave up on school.  While he played dumb sometimes in classes, he also would occasionally tell his other classmates to pay attention — particularly in his social studies class.

He thinks this is what drew the attention of his teacher, Mr. Edmonds.

One day Benny was goofing around and wouldn’t answer a question when Mr. Edmonds asked. Mr. Edmonds kicked him out of class and told him to wait in the hall.

“He came out and asked me why I was acting like I didn’t know the answer, whether I thought that was cool,”  Benny said. “He told me that I needed to stop playing around, that I needed to stop dumbing myself down.  He told me that I was a leader, that I could easily lead any group I walked into.”

The effect on Benny was profound.

“No one had ever told me before that I could lead other people.”

After that conversation, Mr. Edmonds continued to talk with him about his future.

“He was the first person who asked me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”

And it was critical for Benny.  He acknowledges that his parents and others had talked to him about doing well in school, but it was different when this teacher was frank with him.

“It definitely changed me.  Those early teenage years are critical, especially for young men,” he said. “You ask yourself: what kind of man do I want to be?  It was a really critical point for me.

“Now, I see my friends and the kind of lives they lead, and there’s a real difference from my life.  I ask myself why is there a difference?  Why did I choose the path I did?  And I think that speaking with that teacher was one of those moments that put me on a different path.”

Benny told me a little about the actual social studies class and how Mr. Edmonds was an interesting teacher who was very honest with students.  He got them in groups a lot, working together during class.  But what Benny remembers the most is that one hallway conversation.

He told me that Mr. Edmonds called his parents several times, even after Benny was no longer in his class.

“He’d still call my dad and tell him ‘You should be proud of your son.’”

Mr. Edmonds encouraged Benny to go to a more challenging high school than his neighborhood school.

He did. And he thrived.

“My high school wasn’t a place where it was cool to be dumb.  It was a place where it was cool to be smart.”

I believe Benny when he says that he looks back on that conversation as a turning point.

Obviously, Benny was an intelligent, interested kid before Mr. Edmonds took him outside. One conversation didn’t change him completely.  But, it was a piece of his transformation — an important piece.  It helped remind him who he was, and it encouraged him to think about who he could be.

This is one of the most powerful ways a teacher can add value to a student’s life.  And, according to Benny, he wasn’t the only one Edmonds treated this way.  I’m sure we could find other students with memories of similar conversations with Edmonds, with similar results.

There are many other teachers like Mr. Edmonds out there, teachers who encourage kids to choose a more positive path for their lives.  And we desperately need them in our classrooms with our children.

We need to encourage this kind of caring and this kind of involvement.  Our discussions about the value of teachers must focus on the way they can impact the wide variety of choices students are making — not just the multiple choices put in front of them on a standardized testing form.

Copyright 2013 StateImpact Florida. To see more, visit http://stateimpact.npr.org/florida/.