The class gets an 'A'while the teacher's away

Half an hour into first period! I'd never left a class unattended for so long.

What had I been thinking?

I hurriedly told the program director "goodbye," dashed to my classroom, and gingerly opened the door.

Had I interrupted a class in session? At the board, a young woman explained a problem while others listened and asked questions or worked quietly.

I watched, awestruck. The class was mine.

"This is wonderful! I can't believe you're all working so well!" I finally managed to say.

"Mrs. Flower, we're adults," was the calm reply.

Adults. Ah, yes. Adults were different than the teens I'd taught for so many years. With teens, it was strictly a case of "When the cat's away...."

I sometimes left a class on its own while teaching junior high in the early 1960s. Being able to leave a group unattended without complete chaos breaking out was considered the mark of a good teacher.

I suspect, however, that my classes came closer to chaos than I wanted to know.

As I'd return, a self-appointed "monitor" would duck inside to give the alarm. Next, the sound of voices and scuffling reached me. In the room, tell-tale signs of mischief lingered on the hastily erased blackboard while my students, appearing sweetly innocent, sat stiffly in rows.

Later, after I'd begun teaching high school, districts became concerned about being sued should anything untoward occur in an unsupervised classroom. Thus, I rarely left a class alone. When I did, I could find a surprise on my return.

Arriving late for Algebra 2 one morning, I was just in time to see my desk being lifted off the floor by four young men. They had already turned all the student desks around and were intent on lugging mine to the other end of the room.

"Put it down," I said, as I stepped inside.

Picking up book, papers, and chalk, I walked to the back of the room and began teaching. Just before the bell rang, I announced, "I'm ready to return quiz papers to everyone whose desk is facing the right way."

Giggles and scraping noises ensued.

"That was so cool, Mrs. Flower," said one of the young men before leaving.

"Why, thank you," I replied. My next class, general math, would be much calmer if students could find their assigned seats.

Those early scenarios ran through my mind as I stood watching my adult class at work. I remembered the sympathetic pats on the back and the muttered "poor dear" I'd received years before when people learned I taught junior high.

I recalled the reaction of many adults, later on, when they found out I taught high school: "Well, I don't see how you do it! Kids today? They're not like they were back when I went to school!"

But, of course, they were ... mostly. Just kids: moody, intense, joking, hard- working, lazy, impulsive, full of optimism, full of pessimism. They could be hard to get along with one minute, but surprisingly considerate and compassionate the next.

I had enjoyed the challenge of working with teenagers and had taught many wonderful students. Still, how nice to find an entire class hard at work and to hear that simple explanation: "Mrs. Flower, we're adults."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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