The Boy Who Could Read

Photo Credit: Marta Maximovic Flickr via Compfight cc

A fellow teacher posted this story and I thought it was too good not to share:

A third grade boy had won a medal as the best reader in class. Puffed with pride, he boasted to the maid at home, “Let’s see if you can read as well as I can, Nora.” The good woman took the book, looked at it closely, and finally stammered, “Why, Billy, I don’t know how to read.”

Proud as a peacock, the little fellow ran into the living room and fairly shouted to his father, “Dad, Nora doesn’t know how to read and I – only eight years old – got a medal for reading. I wonder how she feels; looking at a book she cannot read.”

Without a word, his father went over to the bookshelf, took down a volume, and handed it to the boy, saying, “She feels like this.”

The book was in Spanish and Billy could not read a line of it. The boy never forgot that lesson. Whenever he feels like boasting, he reminds himself, “Remember, you can’t read Spanish.”

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to speak about writing to a senior high class in the school where I used to teach. I was delighted to find out that I would be sharing the stage with a former student of mine, and now principal of the school, and also former columnist of Sunstar Davao — Ms. Jocy So-Yeung.

Jocy talked about her experience in high school, how I made them write stories and poems and made them feel like their ideas had worth. She carried this feeling of “Hey, I’m a good writer,” with her to college where she was promptly shot down by her teacher who told her to take a remedial class in basic English composition.

It was the first time I heard that story, and it was a humbling experience for me, that my top student whom I considered mature and talented beyond her years, would be asked to take a remedial class. For a while I felt like that boy who couldn’t read Spanish.

During the Q & A section, students asked us questions and at the tail end of it, I ventured a question of my own to my former student — because I was really curious — and I asked, “In light of what you said about your experience, would it have been more beneficial if I had been a stricter teacher in the mold of your college professor?”

She answered that what I did for them was also crucial, because at that stage in their lives, they felt like a “loser’s batch” — that they weren’t worth anything and that the teachers and administration were against them. To be fair, she said, I did criticize and correct their writing but more importantly I gave them a voice and made them feel that their opinions mattered. I smiled as I remembered their batch, how I poured everything on them with the enthusiasm of a first-year teacher, before realizing that I was probably expecting or asking too much of this rowdy bunch of 16-year olds. I wanted to think that I was the greatest teacher they have ever had or will ever have.

It’s good to have one’s ego deflated from time to time.

Like the boy who couldn’t read Spanish, I have to remind myself that I am just one in a long line of influencers in my former students lives. Some may think that I did wonders for them, while to others, my class was just another boring blip in their existence.

And that’s perfectly fine.

 

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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