As long as I have talked with teachers, I have never heard one say that classes are the same year after year. In fact, the opposite is true. Every class has its own personality. This year was an example; it had all of the usual individual personalities, but it also had challenges that were different from before.
I teach English to high school seniors. Every year they range from the young - those who think they are ready to conquer the world - to those who have already given the conquering a try.
A couple of months after school had begun in the fall, I was blessed with yet another new student to add to my second hour. When he entered the room, my body tensed as I recognized him from the prior year. He had been in my class, but had dropped out in the spring.
The young man and I had managed to get along, but it had taken a great effort. He was rude, extremely cocky, had a problem with anger - and authority - and was often strung out or sleepy. He took more time than was fair to my other students, and I did not want to have this semester go in the same direction.
For some reason, I still liked the young man. I held my breath for a moment and then invited him in, instructing him where to sit for the day. He smiled and took his seat. We agreed to visit about expectations and assignments after class. A mutual respect seemed to be there.
When we met, I explained that the behavior of the previous year could not happen again. He assured me that his goal was to graduate and that great changes had taken place in his life. Fortunately for him, he had been arrested - two felony charges and convictions. Had this not happened, there's no question he would not have made a turnaround. He was at school on school/prison release and spent his nights and weekends in the county jail. His coming summer could be in the State Penitentiary. It could be life. The length of the stay was dependent upon his success or failure at school.
He told me the arrest saved his life - no matter where he had to spend the next years. He also told me he had made some heart changes - not the "good thing to say" excuse, but for real. He carries a copy of the "The Sinner's Prayer" with him, which was given to him during his time in jail, and I allowed him to read it to the class more than once. He also wrote about his life and experiences, and shared several during class writing time. The stories made a great impression on the other students.
I had to remind him frequently that the students' fascination with his plight and his inclination to be the center of attention had to be squelched.
Still, we had a good understanding. Much of his future depended on his performance in my English class. We often talked about his anger management, his goals for the future, and how he could stay clean. We talked about his soon-to-be-born son and the unexplainable love that happens with the miracle of a new life.
This young man showed me and his class what his determination and his recognition of God could accomplish. He had troubles, but worked through them. He graduated. He is on probation, working to support his new family and stay clean and honest.
I saw him last week. He thanked me for giving him a chance and for believing in him. I needed to thank him, too. He taught lessons to us all by letting us look through the window of his life. He showed us that in a sense, we are all on release time, and need always to make our best effort.
* Glenda Eubanks is the 1998 Idaho Teacher of the Year. She teaches advanced placement English and creative writing at Nampa High School.