Monday, January 19, 2015

"When you encourage others, you in the processes are encouraged because you're making a commitment and difference in that person's life. Encouragement really does make a difference." Zig Ziglar

I have been traveling in Florida for a few weeks, and this past week I stayed at the home of Jim and Cathy Sloan.  Jim and I taught together at North Allegheny Intermediate High School for over 30 years.  He retired in 2004 and I retired in 2011, and although we are no longer together every day, our friendship has never wavered. When we were teaching, Jim and I had  similar teaching styles, and we also shared a great passion for making both teaching and learning fun. Our classrooms were our personal theaters, the stages on which we performed five shows daily.  We loved our subjects, our classes, coaching, and even cafeteria duty.  Looking back, I must say that our zest for teaching, the high expectations for our students, our care, concern, and respect for our students, and the use of lots of humor in the classroom made our students arrive at class on time, and for the most part, ready to learn.

Jim and Cathy and I discussed our past teaching lives, and we remembered some outstanding students as well as some students who had problems.  I talked about my various blogs about how one person can make a difference in the life of another, especially in terms of a teacher/student relationship.  Jim shared a great story that I will share with you; a story that really showcases the importance of  mentoring and guiding students.

Jim taught 10th grade World Cultures, and one day in late September, he noticed a female student in his class who was really involved with the wrong crowd.  Way beyond the "bad boy" group of smokers and drinkers, she was actually involved with a young man several years her senior who was involved in a shooting incident with police after he dropped her off at school.  Jim spoke with the girl and expressed his concern about the "friend choices" she was making. Embarrassed to be talking with a teacher, she asked Jim to assign detention to her; thus alleviating any chance that her school friends would think she was choosing to talk to a teacher. He assigned her the requested detention. During their detention conversation, the girl asked for advice; she really did not know what she should do.  Jim told her to drop her trouble-bound friends before she, too, got into trouble,  and to get some new friends.  Unbelievably, she dropped her friends.  But then came the rub - she asked him to assign her many more detentions, to talk to him about being unhappy, because she had no friends.  Obviously, this was not a good situation, for Jim or the student.  Jim thought about the problem, and asked another female student to stay after school for detention.  He felt that her personality and interests might be a good match for the student with no friends.  He introduced the two girls, who actually became friends very quickly.  In fact, their friendship lasted through high school, and they became college room mates!

Please allow me to share a very pleasant addendum to this story, which reaffirmed Jim's advice years before to "Get new friends." First, you need to know that Jim coached girls' tennis at North Allegheny for over 30 years.  The much younger niece of the troubled girl played tennis for Jim about 20 years after the original incident occurred.  The parents of the girl (née the aunt and uncle of the tennis player) attended a tennis match and waited to see Jim after the match.  They looked him squarely in the eyes, shook hands with Jim, and said "Thank you for saving our daughter's life all those years ago."  And so, there is a sort of fairytale ending to a very real story of a girl who was making bad choices, a story that could have ended in disaster.  As teachers, we have great power to influence the lives of young people in a positive manner.  We must wield that power carefully, always keeping in mind that we must do what benefits the student.

Teaching offers so many rewards, and helping to shape a life is one of the best rewards. Educators should always want the best for their students.

Do you have a story similar to Jim Sloan's?  Please fell free to comment or share your story.

As always, I welcomc your comments or suggestions.

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