English and Journalism

"One Day, One Assignment, Many Lessons Learned" by Tracey Meusec

One thing I’ve learned during my student teaching experience, and was happy to learn, is that I cannot, under any circumstances, give up on any students. Let me clarify by saying that I do indeed believe that every student is capable of learning and that every student can be motivated. However, in my experience, I have come across a few students who I have yet been able to reach. There is one student in particular that I had been struggling with. He had not completed any assignments since my take over, had been consistently disruptive in class, and had been outwardly defiant towards me as an authority figure. I have tried helping this student after school, pulling him aside to talk to him about work, school and life in general, and I tried calling home in hopes that his parents might be able to help influence him to complete at least some of his assignments. None of these attempts made any difference. However, one mundane Thursday, I was pleasantly surprised with a change.

One of the recent assignments I’d given was to create an original piece of writing depicting a character’s point of view, from a story we read, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment. Students were asked to write from a character’s point of view and reflect on his/her experiences in the story. I allowed students to write in any format they wanted. Some students wrote poems, others wrote songs, some wrote letters and e-mails, while others constructed conversations or streams of consciousness. Upon completion of the assignment, I had the students give informal presentations of their work so we could all be witness to the differing interpretations we had of the characters.

On the first day of presentations, one of my most reluctant learners, the one whom I have been describing, came up to me, before class even started, to request to be the first presenter. I was shocked first and foremost that he got to class on time, early even; I was also shocked, not only that he wanted to present first, but also that he had even completed the assignment. I allowed him to be the first of his class to present his project and I was glad I did. His presentation and piece of writing completely exceeded any and all expectations I had for the assignment, not just for him, but for all of my students. He wrote a song that exceeded four pages in length (I told students to aim for one full page) and he encompassed so much detail from the story and about his character that I was in complete awe. He rapped his song to the class and everyone was impressed, myself probably more so than anyone else.

In addition to simply doing a great job on his own assignment, he even inspired others to be successful with this particular project. Another student of mine chose to write a song as well and when I asked him why he chose that format, he said that he was inspired by the other student’s song and that that other student even helped him write it. Not only did this reluctant learner succeed, he inspired others to be successful as well.

As soon as I had a prep period, I quickly hurried to the phone banks in the teacher center. I pulled up his mother’s phone number and wanted to call her to report that her son had done a great job. Being that I had called home before, his mother was not initially happy to be receiving a phone call from one of her son’s teachers. Her response was, “Oh no, what has he done this time?” When I replied with the fact that her son did an incredible job with his given assignment, exceeding all my expectations, she was literally brought to tears. She happened to be with her husband, the student’s father at the time and passed the phone to him in fear that he wouldn’t believe what I was saying unless he heard it for himself. Both of the parents were so happy to have good news delivered from the school for once, instead of hearing yet another negative comment about their son. They were very appreciative that I called, and we had a nice conversation about how we can, together, keep the productivity going.

The next day in school, this student was active in class discussion, showed up with his book and a writing utensil (something he had never done before), and made a positive contribution to the day’s lesson. After class, he approached me and said that his parents were wondering if they could receive a copy of his assignment so he could perform it for them as well. I, of course, said yes, made the copy and had the student pick it up at the end of the day. I think he was pleasantly surprised to find out that I make phone calls home to report positive feedback, something he may have never known teachers to do before.

That incident unquestionably taught me never to give up on a student, no matter how reluctant he or she is, no matter how many times I have already tried, and no matter how desperately I wanted to give up on him. Also, that with a little creativity and student choice, students are more motivated, they feel more in control; they feel they get to decide what they want to do for a change, rather than having someone simply tell them what they have to do. That experience has been my proudest moment as a teacher so far. I feel more motivated than ever to try to pull the creativity out of each of my students. I don’t know if this student will continue to turn in assignments, or whether I will never receive a piece of writing from him again, but his song, his presentation, and the reaction from his parents upon hearing positive news about their son, will forever be a memory of mine. I believe it is moments like this, that keep teachers going through the hard days. The pride I felt was not just pride of my own but pride for my student, and as a teacher, that is the best kind of pride we can experience.

-Tracey Meusec, Student Teacher Spring 2011

"One Day, One Assignment, Many Lessons Learned" (pdf)