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Success can be measured through communication

Teachers make a difference in the lives of the students they teach. Coincidentally, those students also make a difference in the lives of the teachers they love. The following story was submitted by a Maricopa teacher about a student connection and and how it changed the lives of those involved.

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Success Can Be Measured Through Communication

Success is not only measured in achievement but also through successful communication.

Michael was a brilliant, talented kid. His talents included illustration, a quick wit, a great sense of humor and a notable skill in cartooning. He also had an ego and was proud of his class clown stigma. From the first day of school, there was tension between he and I in the art room.

Prior to my being hired, the art room and art class, were deemed "party time.” As a new teacher I came in with an unbelievable expectation that art was now a class and had requirements just like core classes. Homework was assigned as needed. A research paper was required for junior high students and detentions were given out if necessary. Michael, like many other students, could not believe the changes in art class and continuously lead students to act out. As the year went on tension mounted. Michael kept others focused on disrupting class and destroying art supplies. I knew if I could reach Michael, then the others might follow. But how could I effectively reach him?

Michael had art class twice a week. A noticeable favorite subject for Michael was cartooning. After some searching, I found an article in a local magazine about a noted cartoonist doing classes at night. I called and left a message for him about the possibility of coming out to the school for a lecture/workshop. To my very great surprise He agreed.

I told them we had a guest speaker coming and told Michael the guest was a cartoonist he could learn from. Meeting Mr. Lynch who drew Bazooka Joe, from the chewing gum wrapper, got Michael's attention. He spent time looking at Michael's art work. He gave him some pointers and told he should send his work to publishers. I also had arranged for Michael to stay in the art room that day and assist the speaker with other classes. This gave him more time to spend with a professional artist. Michael even helped "teach” cartooning skills to his brother when Mr. Lynch had him demonstrate some ideas. Following the classroom guest, Michael started doing his class assignments, listening and trying. The year ended positively!

The new year came and things were ok until there was a project that would not be done in cartooning. We were back at square one. I made Micheal an offer to teach cartooning to younger classes if he did another style of art work for his project. It was not well-received. He was comfortable with cartooning but risk-taking was scary. For two days there was only silence. On the third day, Michael walked in the art room and said he would like to teach that class.

He chose the class his brother was in and his brother watched Michael shine. He further developed his artistic styles while still maintaining his cartooning. He demonstrated the ability to learn other styles and techniques and did an excellent report on advertising. Two years passed but the best was yet to come.

The week of promotion, Michael and some of the 8th graders I hadn't been as successful with, were in the hallway talking. I spoke with them for a moment, encouraged Michael to keep up his art in high school and walked down the hall. Inevitable nonsense comments followed from the other two boys. As I turned the corner, I heard Michael say, "Guys you've got her all wrong. She is not like that at all."

That was my moment of success. Tears came and they still do whenever I think of that day. Two years of coaxing and trying several ways to reach this student. And it worked.

Michael was also a member of student council in his 8th grade year. They raised a lot of money and were looking for an end-of-year project to fund. Our final art project that year was, "What is your dream?" In class Michael asked me what my dream was. I looked out the window and said, "A garden, a garden to draw." I cried the day I got a note that the student council was funding a garden for the art room with $200.00. The name signed on the bottom of the notice was Michael's.

The garden still blooms. Michael is no longer there and after 10 years I too moved on to another school. I did and still do think of it as Michael's garden. When I am confronted with a student who seems to be unreachable, I think about Michael. I think about how our garden began with one step of communication and how it grew, and continues to grow today.

Success is not measured only by encouraging a student to try or to expand views or styles. Success is finding a common ground where communication can grow.

Barbara Perez

*This is part of our Teacher Connection Series that was inspired by Weave: The Social Fabric Initiative. https://www.aspeninstitute.org/programs/weave-the-social-fabric-initiative/