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Tiny Teaching Stories: ‘Those Three Keep Haunting Me’

November 06, 2019 2 min read
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The Powerful Moments of Your Lives, Distilled

We asked teachers to share their triumphs and frustrations, the hilarious or absurd moments from their lives, in no more than 100 words.

For more Tiny Teaching Stories, click here.

To submit your own story, click here.

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‘Those Three Keep Haunting Me’

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Three. That’s the number of students I couldn’t reach in my seven years teaching. It’s hard to admit. Brandon my first year, Sergio and Gregory my fourth. All expelled. I’ve had more than 1,000 students. Many come back or write, yet those three keep haunting me. Not because they were difficult, but because they remind me that my work is never done.

I rack my brain for what I could have done differently. It motivates me to keep teaching, to keep hoping that I will meet another Brandon, Sergio, or Gregory and make a different connection, create a different outcome.

Shawta Singh-Luth
8th grade U.S. history
Garden Grove, Calif.

‘What We Do Matters’

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Recently heard from a former student, now a junior in college, who took three years of Mandarin with me. While doing a summer internship in Shanghai he wrote to thank me—not so much for teaching him the language, but for the stories I shared about my own experiences abroad. He wrote that they encouraged him to go outside his known comfort zone and to explore with courage a culture beyond his own. It was not my intention, but a fruitful result.

What we do matters!

John Mahon
High school Mandarin and English as a Second Language
La Verne, Calif.

‘A Chorus of Groans’

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It’s summer. It’s hot. And we’re at school. When it’s time for writing, I get a chorus of groans from my 4th graders.

I let them write whatever they choose: a graphic novel, a poem, fiction, a memoir. As they write, I stop by desks, confer one-on-one. Midway through, I notice a change. Every head is bowed over the page, every pencil scribbles ideas.

When it’s time to finish, I’m met by a new chorus: one of moans—kids not wanting to stop yet. It took one session to share the power of writing. I hope they never forget it.

Emily Galle-From
K-5 instructional coach
North St. Paul, Minn.

‘Dude! You’re a Robot!’

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Twenty minutes until spring break, and a student from my advisory period was raging in the hallway. I got him settled and talking. He was angry; his friend had been wronged. I wanted to affirm his feelings. I meant to say, “Of course. You’re not a robot. You’re a human.” Instead I blurted, “You’re a robot!” by mistake. His eyes got wide and he froze. Then we both cracked up.

Now whenever either of us wants to cut to the heart of a discussion, all we have to say is, “Dude! You’re a robot!” With a half-smile, we’re there.

Bryan Finnegan
High school science
New York

‘Aiden Wrote Their Work on the Board’

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One morning mid-February ... an email from a fellow teacher: “Aiden uses they/them pronouns. They recently came out to me as non-binary. Please use these pronouns when referring to them.”

I’m happy to call students what they want, but switching five months into the year is going to be tough. What will the other students think? What happens if I make a mistake?

In class that day: “Students, give your silent attention up front. Aiden wrote her work on the … sorry, Aiden wrote their work on the board. Please explain what you did.”

Aiden smiles and explains beautifully.

John McCrann
High school math
New York

About This Project

Teachers’ lives are packed with powerful moments: moments of triumph, frustration, absurdity, joy, revelation, and hilarity. We want to hear about them.

Submit your Tiny Teaching Story, in no more than 100 words, here.

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