Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lifetime Impact

"You are the reason I quit high school", said a 70 year-old man to an 80 year-old. 

This confrontation occurred three years ago when the younger man encountered his former 10th grade teacher in a chance meeting while shopping.

This story was told to me this week while drinking coffee with friends at a local diner.  One friend, the man whose age was 70, related this story about his dropout experience in 1951 at Old Town School in Forsyth County of North Carolina. He was a 16-year-old tenth grader at the time.  One day he entered science class late with an explanatory note from his father and an acknowledgment signature by the school's principal.  The other students had already begun a test. The teacher admitted the late student and sternly ordered him to an empty seat in the back of the class and said, "You will receive a zero on the test".

The student sat idly through the period, finished the day, and never returned to school. He became a dropout and lived with that designation from that day forward.  The student grew, married, was drafted, served in the army, was honorably discharged, worked a career in a factory job, retired, and is comfortable.

The science teacher, who also coached girls' basketball, quit teaching after a few years, married, became a salesman, retired, and is comfortable.

When the former student told the former teacher, who was accompanied by his wife and a grandchild, that the classroom experience was the main reason behind his dropout decision, the teacher apologized profusely.  The teacher remembered the student but not the incident. The student carried that memory throughout his life.

I think there is a profound lesson in this story.  Here's the lesson: an action by a teacher that is viewed as unjust, unfair, or unreasonable by a student can affect the student for a lifetime.

I hope I never have such a negative impact on a life.



At 8/14/2008 2:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope that there are many more instances of inspiration by teachers who care than the negative! I believe that seizing upon any positive attempts from kids far outweighs pointing out their shortcomings.

At 8/20/2008 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anne Kennedy said...

Thanks for sharing this story. I too hope that as a teacher, I make more positive impacts on students than negative, but that possibility is always there that the one time I speak before I think, I can do something negative that will influence a kid's life. All I know to do is pray that God will put a guard over my mouth that what I do and say will inspire and encourage, not demean or tear down students. Thanks for your great influence on our students as a substitute teacher!


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