(For politics, please scroll down)
("Tales from the Classroom" is a feature posted occasionally here at this blog. All tales are true and present matters about which I have personal knowledge. The following tale dates back to 1983, when I was teaching a third-fourth grade combination class of 33 students)
His response: "I failed the test because your ancestors held my ancestors as slaves."
I told CS the truth: "My ancestors didn't hold slaves. On my father's side, my family was opposed to slavery; on my mother's side, the ground they owned wouldn't sprout black-eyed peas — much less support even the holding of one slave. You failed the test because you didn't study for the test. You're on restriction until next week's spelling test."
CS sat there stunned. Yes, from that day on, he did better on the weekly spelling test.
The next year, after another confrontation with me — again, the cause was not preparing for class because he "didn't feel like it" (his very words) — CS decided that he should take school seriously. A few months later, he won a local poetry contest. The turning point for CS! And he so stated to everyone at the school reunion in October 2009. He was actually grateful for the terrible confrontation we had. You see, that confrontation was the only time I actually lost my temper with a student. It was ugly, to the point that I call him at home that night to apologize. But what I said and did got the job done.
Today, I'm in contact with CS on Facebook. He found me there shortly after I had joined, and I, of course, friended him back immediately. I am delighted to see that he is now opposed to any kind of victimology as an excuse for not being successful. Furthermore, CS is very successful: a top-of-the-line computer systems designer.
He recently messaged me as follows:
"[My own children] are not even remotely allowed to not care like I was. My mother was a great woman. She just couldn't raise me alone. I was too much in a generation of deception."
CS has also offered to help me during this season of my medical crisis. And I may be asking for his help, too.
Teaching is not and should not be a popularity contest. Instead, teachers should take the long view, and most students will later appreciate that a teacher held the line for both standards and accountability.