I have taught high school for almost 30 years and teenagers still surprise me.  This past year I have had a certain former student, I’ll call him Maurice, visit me before first period EVERY DAY to give me a “fist bump”.


Daily occurrence on the LHS math hall…

Maurice struggled to learn algebra last year.  His foundation was weak, and his family situation tenuous at best.  “I’m moving,” he’d tell us often in the first semester.  He did not complete assignments, even with extra help from additional support teachers and me.  His quiz grades were low and I worried about him in a general way, but I really worried about whether he’d pass the state test.  He was extremely quiet in class, never a behavior problem whatsoever, and I had to remind myself to pay special attention to him since he was not in the business of drawing attention to himself.

As the year unfolded, I remained optimistic on the surface but became more and more knotted inside.  Could Maurice really pass the state test?  Could he learn just enough to answer the minimum number of questions correctly?  What if the state pushes the finish line to a different number?  Then what?

Meanwhile I had students in that same class who were tracking towards the highest grade possible on the state test.  They were visibly hungry for more examples, more practice, deeper understanding,  They were very vocal.  WHY?  HOW? and WHAT IF? always preceded their comments and questions.  I always felt needed by those students.

And yet, those students never visit me this year.  They are scurrying from class to class, trying to keep on top of accelerated English reading, band competitions, and chemistry homework.  Occasionally I’ll shout hello to them in the hall as they dart into geometry or algebra 2 and they’ll politely shout hi! back.  But Maurice visits me.  Every day.  For the fist bump.  I had no idea how much I was helping him last year.

It’s important for our students to know that we believe in them, especially when they don’t believe in themselves.  You never know who you are really helping / serving in the moment, though you may think you do.

Maurice passed the state algebra test on his first try.  But even if he hadn’t, I think he might still be seeking me out for our morning greeting.  It wasn’t about whether he passed the state test or not.  It was about me believing in him and respecting him as a human being, and he’s going to always remember that.  I tend to be pretty sarcastic and as the students say, “Throw a lot of shade,” so I’m happy that Maurice saw beyond that.

13 thoughts on “Unexpected

  1. So much more to teaching than just content knowledge. So proud that we have so many well-rounded teachers in our district.

  2. Awesome. It always amazes me the students that will visit, ask to use me as a reference, or ask for a letter of rec that I never realized I reached or that they even really liked my class. As you mention, once they let you know, they let you know beyond the level that most of the type As have the time to do.

  3. My entire high school career would have been a completely different experience if it weren’t for the multi-faceted way you teach each student in every class. I always struggled in math, and often times needed things worded differently for it to click in my head. You were always patient, never got short with me, or exasperated. I can’t swing by for a fist bump, but I’m so happy to know you’re still changing lives, one kid at a time. Thank you for everything you did for me.

  4. These positive, encouraging stories like this one are so uplifting during this time of year when we’re all getting tired! All of the negativity on social media about pay raises, state tests, political agendas, etc. can make you lose sight of the “real” reasons we chose this profession! Thank you (and Maurice) for this reminder of WHY we do what we do!
    I hope my daughter gets you next year for Math. I am confident that she is coming to HS prepared because of the wonderful Math foundation she has gotten at Lafayette!
    Continue on… 🙂

    • Yes. Often times teachers feel like they’re in the fox hole or the trenches, fighting the real war while the “higher ups” are in the War Room somewhere far away. It can be discouraging and isolating. But Lafayette is a great district and our administrators have our backs. I hope I have your daughter for math too! But even if I don’t, we have only the best at LHS!

    • A lot of it is mindset, I think. I can complain and gripe as much as the next person. But you know who hears you complain and gripe the most? You. So it needs to be cut out. Life is too short to live angry and disappointed.

  5. Pingback: Becoming a Teacher | Math, Teaching, and Teaching Math

  6. I enjoyed reading this article to see how education is changing in a positive path. It is always good to see evolution today with our students’ education. I love learning communication strategies that support students’ kindness, high-level thinking, active participation, and collaboration. I have enjoyed using Responsive Classroom in my daily lessons this year.

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