No, you don't know him. In fact, very few people do. He was a local character around the town where I grew up. But what I learned from his experience has made me more aware of the importance of a teacher knowing and understanding the students entrusted to their care. Perhaps you will too after hearing his story.
Grady, apart from being a good guy, never amounted to anything. His life was a meager existence, doing day labor when he could. He couldn't read or write. He died as poor as he was born. Had it not been for some friends and government pensions, he probably would have received a pauper's burial.
Why then am I paying tribute to a guy like this? I just think someone owes it to him. Here's why. I knew him most of my life. He was always friendly and kind to us guys. He was an easy target for jokes about being dumb, always a good laugh. Grady worked for my step-father when extra help was needed. So I asked one day if Grady was really dumb, had a learning disability or just didn't want to take the trouble to learn. What I learned first made me angry, then made me realize the power to effect lives that a teacher possesses.
When Grady entered the first grade, he immediately experienced difficulty in learning. After two weeks of trying, the teacher sent him home from school with a note telling his parents that "he was too dumb to learn" and he needed to be taught how to do physical labor.
Years later, it was discovered that he wasn't "dumb" but that his learning difficulties came from poor eyesight. He just couldn't see, that was all. So here's a man who spends his life aimlessly because of a snap judgement by a teacher. Who knows what he could have been if we could go back and remove this incident from his life. You may not know this Grady, but everyone probably knows someone like him. Every class generally has at least one student who would probably be voted the "one most likely not to make it in life". Once this label is attached, that student spends the rest of his life defending himself or trying to live up to everyone's expectations.
I have sat in teacher's meetings where teachers would remark to the another how glad they were that a particular student was being promoted to the next class. Then they proceeded to give all the reasons why. That student was promoted with a tag and his new teacher was already dreading his arrival. A sociological experiment, using hidden cameras, demonstrated that children with these labels were treated more harshly than those labeled as "good kids". This often resulted in the student becoming discouraged and failing to reach their potential.
How can we avoid this pattern?
By seeing our roles as teachers and trainers as fitting into the scheme of building people is a great start. The first value must become the driving force behind everything we do. It says "Every person has the right to have the gospel presented at their level of understanding."
The key words are "every person" and "their level". Teachers must recognize their class is made up of individuals. We never teach the group, but the individuals that make up the group. There are difficult people for sure. Some people seem to delight in making the class a horror for all concerned. Why? That's what you as a teacher need to uncover. The most difficult person has a reason why they are so difficult. Teachers should be taught to explore, develop relationships, and help that person overcome their problem. That's what building people is all about. We as administrators must stress over and again to our teachers and workers the enormous power we have in the lives of those in our charge.
Written by Larry Thomas
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