Friday, March 21, 2014

A Teacher Who Told Me I'd Amount To Something

I don't remember much from third grade. But I remember my teacher encouraging me to read. I don't know exactly how this came to be, but for some reason he purchased a subscription to Reader's Digest for me when I was in his class. Not the most exciting magazine for a child to read, but when issues started arriving at my home, well, I read them. I don't recall much of what I read in elementary school. My best guess is that I was mostly reading about football players and baseball players; I have slight recall of borrowing books about professional athletes from the school library.

I have no idea if Mr. Hartman encouraged my classmates to read in a similar way. I truly don't know if he took special interest in my academic development or if he did this for a lot of students. Either way, he pegged me as a reader and helped develop my interest in reading. It was a nice thing to do, and looking back I understand the significance of being treated as a "smart kid" by a teacher. Although I don't know how he saw me in comparison to my peers, the mere act of having Reader's Digest come to my home, courtesy of my teacher, sent a signal to me that I was a worthy student. It was a way of telling a child that he could amount to something. It was an action of a teacher that made a difference. Mr. Hartman invested in me as a student and a reader. In doing so, he helped me along a path to academic success.

The title for this post is a nod to Biggie Smalls' song "Juicy," which opens with him announcing: "This album is dedicated to all the teachers that told me I'd never amount to nothing..." This reminds us that teachers treat students in dramatically different ways. Biggie celebrates achievement and success despite being doubted and downgraded at an early age. Notice the song includes the lyrics "considered the fool cause I dropped out of high school." A person isn't doomed to failure in life if they don't thrive in school, nor is a person guaranteed success because they did. It's not as though every teacher in my life affirmed my academic identity. I wasn't constantly reinforced in positive ways as a student. I did encounter teachers who doubted me and who didn't respect my academic potential. But overall, I definitely benefited from positive treatment by teachers. When you get as much kindness and support from teachers as I did, it's easy to see yourself as a "good student" and to act accordingly.

This is a picture of my third grade class. I am in the front row, wearing lots of brown, and sporting a Miami Dolphins belt buckle if I'm not mistaken. Born and raised in Niagara Falls, NY, no one is sure why I was a Dolphins fan at the time.

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