A Teacher's Day

The day in the life of an inner city large urban school district teacher after the high stakes testing ends and there is still three more months left before summer vacation.

Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

I have taught school for over thirty years always in the inner city and for the most part always upper grade students. I have two children and I have been married for twenty years.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Annual Seymour Brownstein Most Improved Student Awards

I came to work Tuesday only to find out the winner of the Seymour Brownstein Most Improved Student Award would not be participating in the graduation. His standardized test scores and report card grades were not good enough. He’d have to go to summer school and then move on to high school. Nonetheless, he was at school to support his classmates. An altogether brave young man.

A few others would also not be graduating including one student whose brother was shot in the face a few days ago murdered only a block away from the school. He did not come to school to support his classmates—and he had a very good reason not to. Life is hard too many times in the neighborhood where I teach.

I did have a runner up ready to take my winners place. When the time came for me to speak, the office called me downstairs, had me place my classroom of students next door or in the art room, and I took my place on the extremely hot stage.

Here’s how it went:

The MC stood up after the eighth graders finished singing one of their songs and introduced me: “We are honored to introduce to you one of our seventh grade teachers who has a very special award.”

How special? When the principal found out how much money I was giving the most improved student, she said that’s more than we’re giving our valedictorian. And I said, “Well, that’s how it is.”

Then the MC said my name and a very nice thing happened. The audience went wild with clapping and cheers and I, of course, felt really good about everything.

“There are two perfect young ladies,” I began, “in the class of 2007—a class by the way I taught last year and I just want to say they were the best seventh graders I have ever taught. These two young ladies, if I decided to have any more children, I would want two daughters exactly like them.” And the audience let out a loud sigh—just like the kind you hear on talk shows when everything is finally perfect. “My father who passed away over ten years ago always honored people who tried. He gave them one chance or two—sometimes even fifteen. All of us are worth that many chances and more. He taught me this. Anyway I chose these two girls because perfect as they were, they became even more perfect in eighth grade.”

Then I called them to the stage by name and they came and took their checks (twenty-five dollars each) and we shook hands and we took a photo.

Then I said, “It was very hard to pick a winner this year. We had a follower who has now begun to show leadership qualities and we had a student I wanted to pick but things went wrong. To him, when you have a lemon, turn it into lots of lemonade and when summer school is over your check will be waiting for you. The winner of the Seymour Brownstein Most Improved Student Award goes to a young man I taught after he was sent to my room last year in the middle of the year. He was well behaved and he did all of his work and he made major changes, but he could not allow negative peer pressure to be ignored. So he began to move in negative directions more and more. Well, this year he has not only not fought the entire year, but he has broken up fights with words and conflict resolution. He has not been sent to the office once for a negative incident.” And I heard “amen’s” all around me. “He has grown and become a leader and I hold in my hand not one check, but two.”

When I called his name everyone on the stage stood and gave him a standing ovation and he was so happy, he hugged everyone, told me, “Thank you, Mr. Brownstein,” (he is only the second person to thank me for the award) and beamed through more than one photograph. Then he took the two envelopes—each holding a check for thirty-five dollars for a total of seventy—and proudly went back to his seat.

When I left the stage a few minutes later, I remembered my father and how he always tried to do the right thing and how he always put into us the conviction and strength necessary to help to make this world a better place. So I paused on the stairs for a moment and thanked him again.

Then I collected my students and went back to my classroom where my class and I cleaned up—it being the last full day of school and all.


Anonymous Dan Nordquist said...

I see you're still giving your all to inspire your students, Mike. I've misplaced your number, but I think you have mine. Something came up you may be interested in.

11:58 PM  

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