Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Paying Dues

Words, no matter how wonderful, can never speak with the same volume as actions. In fact, just a small action can speak much more volubly than the loudest proclamation. When the action is unexpected, it will be remembered longer than the most erudite or efficacious speech given from any podium.

One of my students has been struggling to get her keyboarding speed to a passable level in my night class. The program we are using averages the three basic sections of their typing grade so that any one area will not necessarily cause a student to fail. This student, however, was intent upon getting that elusive “A.” Her documents were well formatted; her tests were all good, but she simply could not seem to get 31 words per minute with three or fewer errors.

Last night my little friend got 33 words with only three errors. I sang a little ditty and did a high skip dance for her in celebration. Yes, I looked absolutely ridiculous. But that is not the point. I celebrated her victory with her. Will she remember the night she finally got 33 words per minute? Doubtful! Maybe she will remember the night her teacher sang a silly song in celebration for her. THAT is more likely.

Some of the most important things in our lives are those which are shared with others. The camaraderie I see in my classes is built from day one by those who never knew each other on the previous day. But they share nervousness, laughs, and trials until they actually feel that they are working together. They begin to help each other; they begin to care about each other. Some of them will form friendships that will last for years.

Students become sensitive to the actions, the expressions, and the tones of their teachers. Today I must have been frowning because one of the students asked me if I was angry because my eyes were squinted. An explanation about the pain in my back (probably from the high kick at the end of that silly little jig dance) satisfied her concern. But I noticed today that the students smiled and spoke to me as they left saying they would see me tomorrow in English class. I wondered why they were so relaxed and happy today. Then I remembered that I had picked up a stuffed toy off my desk and threw it at a student or two. The toy makes a silly boing sound. As unexpected as the sound was from that elephant toy, having a teacher throw it at them was even more unexpected—and fun.

Jigs, silly songs, and stuffed animal throwing were never in any curriculum that I ever took in college. But my students are learning and having some fun even when they are grousing the most about having to do so much work. The work—and pushing the students to get it done—is just part of paying our dues. The attitude comes free of charge.

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