I am the first to admit that I was not a stellar high school student. Actually, I was what I would call a “bottom third” kind of kid. I was smart enough, certainly smart enough to earn decent grades, but I was chronically lazy. I was the type of student teachers would hope their peers had the pleasure of teaching. Yes, I would not want myself in my own class! Now, I watch current day versions of my high school self walking down the hall every day, and some take their seat (generally in the back) of my classroom. It seems as though the universe is having fun with me. I am teaching my high school self disguised as a fresh, new version of the lazy, disgruntled wiseacre.
My high school English teacher’s name was Dave Goldsmith. Mr. Goldsmith was certainly not a typical high school teacher. He was often in trouble with the administrators for one infraction or another. He showed up late and was often unorganized and disheveled, but he changed the way I looked at literature and consequently, the way I looked at myself. Dave, he didn’t mind if we called him by his first name (but I never did), was the master of the second chance. As a matter of fact, Mr. Goldsmith gave me several second chances.
I needed many second chances, and I never learned “my lesson” until much later in my life. Without a second chance would I have given up completely? I might have made even worse decisions? I don’t know, and I never will, because Mr. Goldsmith was a second chance kind of teacher. Second chances kept me in the academic game. Mr. Goldsmith taught me to appreciate the beauty of language, but he also taught me the humanity that many young people on the margins desperately need.
Trust me, I know and understand the counter-arguments and, in theory, I agree. Students should turn in their work on time. Students should seek help during tutorials. Students should learn that laziness has repercussions. Parents should control and monitor their children’s education. Teachers must hold the line when it comes to responsibility, because responsibility is a crucial key to success in college and life.
But, not all students fit in the same bag. Some students don’t understand the “shoulds” of life (at least not yet). I understand that the hidden pressures (real or imagined) of a young person’s life can seem overwhelming at times, even though he or she maintains an arrogant outer persona. Some of our students need second chances – sometimes more than one. I often hear my son (an educator) explaining to my grandsons “remember boys, fair is not always equal.” Indeed!
I am advocating for second chance after second chance because our students are not finished products. As long as kids keep trying, I will keep providing opportunities for a “turn around.” Some kids are trapped in circumstances they are not equipped to handle. Let’s be patient with the messy road some young people travel. Let’s be the friendly face that grants yet another opportunity to make things right. Let’s not be the teacher who draws the line that permanently stops a young person from someday reaching his or her goals. I needed second chances that I certainly didn’t deserve. Nobody would have faulted Mr. Goldsmith for failing me. I deserved it. No doubt! I deserved to fail! But he allowed me to find my way even when I am sure he wanted to smack me upside the head with a thick copy of Paradise Lost.
Mr. Goldsmith is no longer with us, but he is with me every day as I stand before my own English students. His patience with me is why I have the opportunity to serve other kids who need a second chance, or even several second chances.
*Photo credits: Haley Bell Photography, Flickr