This story is an excerpt taken from Jill’s coming book: How To Go From Broke To 6-Figures Teaching Kids While Making A Huge Difference. Enjoy.
I had a student who once told me, “You can’t say that to me. My dad’s a lawyer. I’ll sue you!”
My response before I could censor myself was to laugh and say, “I’m a teacher. Sue away. I don’t make anything.”
And literally, that was the honest truth. The only thing he could have, gladly, was my growing mound of student debt.
See, to be a better teacher and to become certified, my second year I started and finished a masters degree in education. It was one path to certification for me and looking back, a very costly one.
I share this as a cautionary tale as I was still paying down that student debt four years later. And I can state for a fact, that while interesting, not one thing I learned in that degree helped me be a better teacher.
What helped me instead was being in the classroom, listening to my students and learning their needs. This taught me the most.
In fact, this same student - with the lawyer father - and the smart, quick, funny mouth became one of my best and favorites. Ah yes, teachers have favorites. Parents do too. People simply don’t want to admit that as true.
Because somehow I managed to make him feel important and special. He went from wanting to sue me, when I told him to get to work, to putting forth extra effort every day in class.
Oh, but you meant why do we pick favorites and not want to admit it? Call it human nature, a natural occurrence, and our darkest fear - looking bad. That comes after the fear of death and public speaking.
But Adam, that was his name, this favorite of mine who started our relationship with a threat. He wasn’t afraid to speak out publicly in class.
His family was, shall we say, wealthy.
Kids being kids, I had quickly discovered the need for a tool to help with the foul language problem that would often erupt without conscious thought from their mouths.
Simply put, I had a Swear Jar.
If a student swore, they were required to put $1 into the Swear Jar. That money was then used for cables, batteries and supplies needed to function in the TV Productions studio, which is what I was running at the time. Teaching students how to make videos and write engaging scripts. Awesome and obviously prior to more cuts of the arts!
Occasionally, the funds collected would be used for something fun, like a party — but that was rare given that it was ill-gotten-gains in my mind.
It was a Tuesday and the week was already promising to be a long one. Kids were antsy because Friday was the last day before a holiday break. But learning was, of course, still required of them.
Adam, of average height and build, swore as he skidded into the classroom just as the bell rang.
Thinking he was late, I think the “f” word simply slipped out of his rather free mouth, but still, slip it did.
I raised a brow, something I’m good at doing with only the left side of my face, and pointed to the Swear Jar.
“Ms. Stevens, I’m sorry,” Adam dropped his books down with flare and in one fluid motion whipped a leather wallet from his back pocket. I saw it was leather and handcrafted, not a cheap velcro thing like most teenagers sported.
“You know the rules, Adam.”
“Yeah, about those rules.” Adam looked into his wallet and with a flourish pulled out a crisp bill. “Here’s a $20, I’d like to prepay. It’s going to be a long week.”
He smiled at me as he stuffed the twenty-dollar-note into the small opening of the Swear Jar.
I know as an adult and teacher, I probably should have been horrified and upset but seriously all I could think was ingenious!
I couldn’t help it.
I laughed, as did the entire class, after waiting to see my reaction.
“Well done, Adam. I’ll give you that one. Now can we get to work?”
I think I smiled the entire week. Even to this day, that memory made the long days and constant meetings worthwhile.
See, teaching to me wasn’t just about test scores, lectures and homework. It wasn’t just about state standards and grade point averages.
It was about each human being in a seat inside my classroom.
It was about their personality, their humanity, their skills and their ability to communicate.
It was about introducing them to critical thinking and life.
Not just reading, writing and math. Or in Adam’s case, TV Productions.
And it was allowing them to teach me, too.
Excerpt taken from Jill’s forthcoming book How To Go From Broke To 6-Figures Teaching Kids While Making A Huge Difference.
Get on the waitlist today and be the first to preview chapter 1 and place your pre-order when she’s read to pen-drop this masterpiece of heartfelt tales and impact lessons from the classroom and her tutoring business.
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