Ripe Hearts and Minds

I don’t often rewrite or edit my posts;  writing is like talking to me.  I tried on this one, however, because it sounds like it’s all about me and like I’m bragging.  Hopefully, you know me better than that and realize that anything that sounds like bragging is really just to illustrate  the kids I’m writing about, their hears and minds:

I substitute taught yesterday at the school with which I’m associated.   As much as I enjoy that, I didn’t want to go in when I got called the night before.  I’d made lunch plans with a dear friend and had an unusual number of errands to do (groceries, art store, Staples, car wash..) but I knew that if I said “no” one more time they might not call me for a while so lunch was postponed and I can do the errands in the next few days.  Honestly, to substitute teach on any ongoing basis is like keeping your schedule clear for lifetime jury duty!

I’d forgotten how much I love that school and THOSE KIDS.  I can’t believe how much I love those kids….9th grade to 12th grade;  of every race and nationality you can imagine. White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Arab…….everything.

I sub’d MATH, so you know I didn’t do much teaching this time, though I usually do.  In math classes, I start the class with “Well, you’re all so lucky I’m not going to teach you math  because you’d have to go to a remedial class immediately after!” (I stink at math and always have)…they always laugh and I’ve won them over.   Most of “my kids” who came in the year I started there or the year after, have graduated……..this Senior class is still full of kids I know, thankfully.  Suffice it to say that, three years ago, I knew every kid on campus (about 225 of them) and now I only really know the Seniors.   I could go on and on about this but you’re not interested in what I’d like to write.  Here is what I hope interests you:

These kids are SMART, they are polite, they’re typical kids who do dumb things, they’re very wealthy and they are dirt poor.  My heart swells just to write this……..I show up and the kids who know me, even 17 yr old hipster Black guys, yell “Mrs. Z!”  and run to hug me. Sometimes the kids clap when I walk in.  Sometimes I hear “Oh, Jen told me you were here!  It’s so good to see you!”   Sounds egotistical to tell you all this but it’s not about ME. It’s about the KIDS and their hearts.  They embrace a woman my age and they don’t have to…I don’t give them grades, etc…they ask if they can carry my stuff, they are kind, thoughtful……….these are American teens, kids public schools don’t even know about.

Today,  my second class was almost all FRESHMEN.  I’d never seen any of them.  The class had about 17 kids in it and four came up before class to shake my hand and say “I’m Gaby, nice to meet you!”  or “I’m Filip, what’s your name?”   Yes, they did.  I was stunned.  15 year olds introducing themselves?

I want to zero in on the Black and Hispanic kids, the true point of my post today…. ALL OF WHICH are fun, mostly bright (some brighter and some not as bright as the typical White kids,  always polite and affectionate.)  They get that I love them.   They react in incredible ways to that…THAT might be even the truer point of why I wanted to write about this today.  They react to sincere affection and caring.  These are not drug selling monsters, these are not sexually active, troubled kids (though I’m sure some smoke some pot and some have probably had sex, I’m not kidding myself here)….but I wanted to write to say  WE HAVE TO STOP PIGEON HOLING THESE KIDS…….They can be WONDERFUL!  AMAZING!  HAVE GREAT FUTURES!  THEY’VE CLEARLY BEEN WELL RAISED!   Honor them, love them, talk to them…….take every opportunity you can with teens and you will be amazed!

Then there was the White 14 year old boy who said “Mrs. Z, you like Larry David?”  NO.   “WHY NOT?”  Then, as my history teacher buddy who knows me well walked through the room, this kid said “I’m a Bernie Sanders fan!” and I heard my teacher friend say, loud enough for me to hear, “Uh oh……………” 🙂   (I’ll laugh about that for a long time…..he knows what I might have said and, mostly, did not!)  I said that I liked Larry David as much as I like Bill Maher…..’WHY?’  ‘I think they’re irreverent and negative and not uplifting..’

Anyway….I write this because I’m still on that kind of ‘high’ I get after being there for 6.5 hours ….  Tired, happy and so touched.   “Thank you!”  “Excuse me!”  Young boys (mostly the Hispanics are this sweet) moving to the side on the stairwell for me, “How are YOU, Mrs. Z?”  on and on…….you’d be STUNNED at the difference between public schools and this private Christian school….you’d want every kid you know to go there.

Love the kids you meet….let them feel it……I wish you could all feel what I felt today…because this is a young America so few of us have a chance to experience.

(by the way, I’m no hero…they just feel my sincerity…….And I believe they’re raised well and so they are open to it…plus, our school expects politeness and goodness and the administration and teachers live it and show it.  I believe all kids should have that opportunity.  And every adult ought to feel what I felt yesterday and all the other days I’m there)

“you’re the best sub we’ve had!”   And YOU, you wonderful people, are the best kids ON THE PLANET.

Yes, my dear Geeeez friends…really great kids do exist.  Nurture them.



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18 Responses to Ripe Hearts and Minds

  1. Good teachers are born, not made.
    Refined maybe.
    It’s a calling.
    But everyone starts out as a kid, no choice.
    Good kids are trained.


  2. jerrydablade says:

    Oh wow, this post touched me some much, Z! I have no doubt you left an impression on these youngsters that you don’t even realize. I think I’ve shared a similar experience I had subbing in a parochial elementary and in the local Catholic high school from 2010-2012 when I was between full time gigs. I so wish I could have semi-retired and continued to do this. The high school is the same one I graduated from and where we sent our 3 boys. While I loved subbing in the high school, it was my short time at the elementary that was so fulfilling. I know exactly what you mean, Z, when you talk about the hearts of these kids. They are uplifting and do fill you full of hope for our future. None of these kids are “throw-aways”, and the only difference between these kids and in a lot of inner-city public school kids that I can see is a stable and loving family.


  3. silverfiddle says:

    I bet you’re a wonderful teacher.

    Thank you for this message. Don’t blame the kids; blame the stupid, idiotic parents.


  4. geeez2014 says:

    ED, thanks….I kind of wish I’d had thought of teaching when I was choosing a profession but I never did.. I sure like it.
    it’s just so clear to me that those kids need a hand on their shoulder, metaphorically and figuratively….I’ve had rather quiet, standoffish kids there I’d not met and who were talking to a kid I did know….I’ve put my hand on the back of the one I didn’t know and talked for a minute with the other one…..days later, that hard to crack kid I’d never met would come up and say hello. That experience stunned me and taught me a LOT.
    All they want is some attention….GOOD ATTENTION, not the typical attention we have to give the ones who get attention for having done something wrong.

    Jerry, I’ll bet you were fabulous with those kids, and what a wonderful ‘legacy’ to have been at that school, then sent your boys there, and then taught there!
    you are so right………PARENTS PARENTS PARENTS…..but a lot of our kids DO have parents…who ignore them, who pay them off, who divorce and play them against each parent, whose fathers don’t come to volleyball games so their son REALLY acts out the next day at school in bad ways. One of them used to confide in me “Mrs. Z…my dad (who doesn’t live with him due to a terrible divorce) didn’t come again last night to the game”…..the boy wanted so badly to CRY! Well, we worked with him, admin did a wonderful but tough love job with him……he became President of his Junior Class…!!! And he BLOSSOMED. I saw him yesterday and my heart swelled; he had better kids around him as friends than he’d had before (his past best buddy went to public school and is a big problem now, even bigger than he was at my school), and THIS KID PURPOSEFULLY STOPPED AND SAID “HELLO” WHEN HE SAW ME YESTERDAY (I wanted to cry)….I responded with “I’m REALLY so glad to see you….” and he smiled his embarrassed sweet smile and we had a moment where we both knew HE MADE IT TO THE OTHER SIDE..>THE GOOD SIDE> makes me shiver.
    Not to say he won’t go screwy again, but he’s a different kid since our school.

    Silverfiddle…so right. Look at the MESS Treyvon Martin had at ‘home’…..Look at the heroin hooked mom of Freddie Gray and I believe he never saw HIS dad….I’d wager a guess every really screwed up kid has trouble at home…or two homes….or whatever nightmare he’s expected to put up with and thrive in…that world from which we White folks expect those kids to be great kids when they’ve got ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to help them but, maybe, an old Christian grandma who hangs in there and prays for them, and grieves her crackhead daughter, and just keeps hope grandson turns out better. And he usually doesn’t.
    But look at Ben Carson, whose mother couldn’t read but made her 2 boys do book reports which she corrected with red pencil marks!! And they bucked her authority, but they DID IT……………and they made it.

    I have told you all before about Ozzie and Arturo; Ozzie’s brilliant and attends Carnegie Melon…Arturo is at Case Western; both on total scholarships.
    Ozzie’s girl cousin is a freshman there now and I met her in math class….while all the kids were working, and chatting a bit here and there, there she was just BUCKLED DOWN with her calculator totally focused on her work….we talked for a few minutes and she’s a very sweet, wonderful girl…no surprise because I know her family…….DECENT PEOPLE. HARD WORKING HISPANICS. I strongly doubt either of the fathers (O’s dad or her dad) went to college…..and now these kids are getting scholarships at amazing universities…….
    The kid I described above, the one who became Pres of his Jr Class finally (he’ll never be a brain scientist, gradeswise, but he’s still there), is from an upper middle class family$$$.

    it’s not the money…….it’s the PARENTING…….and a VERY good school..


  5. geeez2014 says:

    TOTALLY off subject, and I want to continue with our conversation about kids and how parents and schools can help bring out their best and build them into stronger, better happier people…

    I want to mention that this bombing of the Hospital in Afghanistan where so many Doctors without Border staff were killed is so hideous and also does the US such damage I can hardly think about it….please pray it was a set-up by the Taliban or something. This is BAD.
    I think of the kid in my post who is a Bernie Sanders fan and who also mentioned to me “America’s foreign policy’s just been GO TO WAR IN IRAQ” (he’s a kool aid drinker, of course), and how any kid would react to a mistake of American strikes on a hospital full of volunteers like this……..awful


  6. Imp says:

    @Z…Good job. I’d bet you’d choose American History of Civics as a teacher too? You’d be great at it.


  7. bocopro says:

    Way back in the 50s I decided I wanted to be a teacher. Took me nearly 40 years to get there, but I made it. Taught Adult High School, regular high school, and university classes, including criminals on parole, welfare mothers, normal kids, APs, IBs, non-traditional university upperclassmen . . . the whole schmeer.

    Always got a charge when I saw that face light up, that instant of complete understanding burst over a skeptical brow, that dawn of “Oh, THAT’s what that means!” break over a sullen frown.

    Second most fun I ever had was with classes of dual-enrollment kids in high-school classrooms who’d known each other all their lives. Walk into that room and the group personality was palpable. You KNEW you had to be prepared and NEVER give them a song-and-dance, ’cause if you did they’d go for the jugular.

    Not like that in a college classroom where all the students are strangers with nothing in common. When the energy is there, you can work it, focus it, direct it. If they’re there because it’s just another block on their degree-completion form, it can be like educating bison.

    MOST fun I ever had teaching, tho, was with elderhostel classes. Boss asked me to do a creative writing workshop for about 6 weeks with one group, all of whom except maybe 2 were older than I was at the time (in my late 50s). They were feisty, thirsty, attentive, and creative. And some of the poetry and short fiction they came up with was . . . uh . . . shall we say “startling,” if not downright disturbing.

    Many pieces contained powerful images that had been distilling and curing in mature minds for decades, not the whimsy of rebels and teenagers. Some of their stuff was compelling, even scary, kaleidoscopic, sensual, profound . . . IF somewhat incoherent and rambling at times. But they listened when I gave them clues and hints on transitions and how to clarify and combine allusions, metaphors, vignettes, and so on. Even better, two of the more elderly ladies insisted upon addressing me as “Young man,” which I found absolutely endearing.

    Another group asked for me by name to do a brief intro to drama through the ages (this was volunteer, public-service stuff, no pay or allowances — just a room to hold classes in). Those people WANTED TO KNOW about the Aristotelian unities, about the relationship between drama and politics, about imagery and symbolism and stage arrangements and costumes and so on.

    They asked me to come back and do another couple of weeks on Hamlet and Oedipus, but I had to beg off because of other commitments (grading CLAST essays, a chore all non-tenure English faculty had to endure back then). I’d have enjoyed it, even without pay, and the next year the university suspended the program for lack of classroom space.

    No way, though, could I ever teach K thru 8.


  8. alec says:

    Can’t see any bragging in here at all – just a teacher who loves her students. Lucky kids at this school (and a fortunate substitute teacher too).


  9. geeez2014 says:

    Bocopro…your experiences sound great! Good for you! Mustang was also a teacher and I know he was a good one, too.

    Here’s a link you might enjoy…

    .I used to think I couldn’t teach young ones but LOVED sub’ing at a private kindergarten…had 15 six year olds for a week and loved it.
    The link above is not the one I was looking for, but I can’t find the one with more details!…anyway, it’ll give you a feeling for my WEE AMERICANS class at the Private Preschool on whose Board I sat. It was all about learning about famous Americans like Johnny Appleseed, Thomas Edison, etc etc… I did this class an hour a week for about five years and just loved it.
    They have a little graduation for the preschoolers (which I think is ridiculous, but there you go…)….I didn’t want to show the parents what the kids had learned at the graduation dinner/ceremony in boring ways like “Who was Abraham Lincoln?” So, I got up on stage and the kids remained sitting with their parents and I said I’d forgotten all the great people we’d learned about that year but “Who was that guy who cut down the cherry tree? The one I said we aren’t sure this really happened but it sure shows us we shouldn’t lie?” All the kids’ arms went up “Oooh OOH! GEORGE WASHINGTON!” “And who was the amazing woman who flew in a plane …?” ‘Amelia Earhart!” etc etc…it got very funny and cute!

    One couple told me they took their 5 yr old to The Smithsonian and the docent was telling them about Amelia’s flights, etc., and my student asked “Where’s the LIttle Red Bus?” He remembered the name of her plane!! They were shocked (So was I…he never seemed to be listening!)….ANother mom told me her 4 year old asked what she was talking about with a friend…and they were talking about Babe Ruth for some reason….the little girl asked “Well, was he a better player than Jackie Robinson?” The Mom said she and her friend nearly fell on the ground!!!

    Gad…I’ve written yet another TOME. well, read at your own leisure! 🙂

    The point is it sounds like you got your students really interested and I clearly had…..and that’s what counts.
    I knew I HAD to try to teach them about famous Americans before they got to public school and had anything good about America drummed out of them!!!


  10. geeez2014 says:

    Alec, THANKS. I think I get WAY more out of it than they do……I come home feeling so full of good stuff….that’s why leaving that job (I worked full time for the Head Master for 2 years and worked part time before that for 2 years) was absolutely wrenching. There wasn’t a morning I didn’t approach that school thinking how much I loved it and how God was so good in giving this job to me………..and the rug was pulled out due to funding! Ah, well…………….I’m lucky to still be included and formed friendships with admin and teachers that will last a lifetime; Christians with astonishing morality and astonishing intelligence, fun, bright as they come, loving and amazing people ..and are they GOOD FOR THOSE KIDS. And those kids know it.


  11. bocopro says:

    “Tome”? You don’t write tomes; they’re downright laconic compared to what dribbles out of my fingertips.

    One of the great things about teaching that elderhostel group was that when I gave them a reading assignment, they actually READ it and were ready to discuss it at the next meeting. That simply doesn’t happen in most high-school and university classrooms today. You’re lucky if they bother even to read Masterplots or Barron’s Books or Cliff’s Notes.

    After I retired, the local Christian Academy called me to say they’d heard about my being available and asked if I’d like to teach some classes on business and technical writing or perhaps some basic electronics/electricity.

    When I said I was enjoying not having to make the drive every day or grade the papers, the caller switched me to a male voice who said that they really would appreciate the contributions that a retired military man could offer, especially in basic science as well as general literature classes.

    He offered me a 4-day-a-week one-semester position to see how I liked it, and I said I’d give it a try. So he switched me back to the lady I’d spoken with earlier. She sounded happy that I’d changed my mind but had a few questions before we made any commitments.

    She didn’t ask my religious affiliation, but wanted to know if I’d mind discussing Jesus and His message in my literature classes (since the most oft-quoted sources in Western lit are the Bible and Shakespeare). I answered that I wouldn’t mind at all if I could also mention Buddha and Zoroaster and Confucius and the Vedas, comparing their similarities and pointing out their differences.

    A long pause followed, after which she said, “We’ll call you again if we need you.”


  12. bocopro says:

    Also, the provost at the university when I retired had a custom of asking anyone with several years’ experience who was leaving to share lessons learned with other members of the appropriate college.

    I gave him three bits:

    1. Never go to a classroom prepared for only the time allowed. If you do, something will always come up to make you wish you’d brought more material.

    2. Some students are neither prepared nor willing to learn certain things. It’s not necessarily the teacher’s fault if they don’t learn anything from the class. Don’t sacrifice the rest of your students for the ones who don’t know or don’t care.

    3. Sometimes students question their teacher on source credibility or validity. When that happens and you aren’t sure, the best answer is, “I’m not sure. LET’S find out.”


  13. geeez2014 says:

    Bocopro; great three ‘bits’

    I am stunned at their not using you because you wanted to mention philosophers….At the Christian high school, our teachers all TOTALLY bring philosophers into the mix, BIG TIME, even ‘religious’ philosophers….And our kids are so pumped into Socratic seminars by that time, that THEY bring those people up! And it’s totally welcomed.
    I only wish on the political side that there were ANY (I mean ANY) textbooks that don’t lean left (I’ve researched it for some of our teachers who also researched) and that our mostly conservative teachers would even subtly indoctrinate as badly as the leftwing teachers elsewhere do. Ours don’t feel it’s right, and they’re right; but we’re losing in the struggle because of our conscientiousness.

    We had a very liberal Yale Grad Christian who only was there 2 years, thank God….I didn’t know her leanings and sat in one day, telling her I’d heard she was a good teacher and would like to listen…. Finally, I’d had it with her using examples that have two sides but not seeing those two sides, and she finally asked “Mrs. Z, how do you feel about this!?” And I told her “You know, I feel there’s another way of looking at that and I believe at least half of America feels that way, too, so that’s my input..” Some of the Senior boys in there who knew my politics were giving me THE LOOK OF “We know what you wanted to say… good going, but we agree with you!” Loved it.

    BOCOPRO: YOU might like this: One of our Seniors was selected into the Naval Academy, which is no easy process……..they interviewed him countless times, friends, family, records, grades…it never quits. Suddenly, we were told the Navy was coming and would we like to be in on his acceptance ‘ceremony’ in his English class?!! Andrew was told it was another interview!!! So, we in Admin piled down there, about 5 of us who could get out of the office, and there was a WOman dressed in dress blues, erect, pretty and proper; And she asked Andrew to stand up and presented him with some folder or something and told him “Congratulations on your acceptance to the Naval Academy” We were all crying and he was stunned and the class went WILD!
    Our VERY liberal college counselor who finally left (Great counselor but biased like “you don’t want the military, they’ll haze you…” etc) filed out just before me, the last two out the door, though class was still in their seats…she yells back into class at Andrew and everyone “And it’s FREE!” I turned around to the class and said “No, it’s NOT…our tax dollars pay for it..”


  14. Kid says:

    Z, I didnt see any bragging at all eihter. Just a teacher and many student who enjoy each other so much and get so much out of it, I couldn’t be a full time teacher, but isn’t it wonderful when a single sentence can have such a meaningful effect on a young person’s life. So gratifying.


  15. geeez2014 says:

    Kid, I think it is. SOme of them over the years have looked surprised….like nobody says nice things to them, no adults, anyway.
    I spoke above about the liberal college counselor…..I really liked her except for her politics and even that wouldn’t have bothered me except that I sat next to her boss’s desk and heard some of the consultations with our kids….”you don’t want the military, you’ll be hazed and you want better opportunities than they can offer you” One of our kids made a mention of a pretty liberal position and Jane said “You should go into journalism, we need people like you!” And even more.
    After that military comment to Arturo, they finished up, he walked out of the office, and I followed him out….stopped him and said “Arturo, did you feel encouraged to go into a military academy for college?” “No,” he said..”Well, I ENCOURAGE YOU. I think it’s a wonderful, courageous thing to do…..” He’s the kid who rarely spoke to anybody but came and gave me a huge hug at Senior Dinner when our Headmaster told the kids to get up and give their parents hugs and thanks for having put them through our school…….he turned right around, saw me sitting against the wall (I was in charge of the whole night so I was working) and walked to me, never taking his eyes from mine, and hugged me. I swear I left and went to the admin office all by myself and sobbed! Such a moment!


  16. Baysider says:

    What an interesting and enlightening discussion. That school is amazing, Z. And your story encouraging. Yes, it’s too bad there are so few, but a few strong, well bred and well tutored kids who know how to think are worth so much more than their numbers. I LOVE that story about “it’s free – no it’s not.”


  17. geeez2014 says:

    Baysider, the whole class laughed at that but , particularly, our Head of Athletics, a good solid conservative…!
    It is an amazing school; so much better than even I can describe it and you know I get teary every time I talk about it. Man!


  18. Mal says:

    I’ve been gone most of the day and just got to read this. Wow! Every kid should have a teacher like you, Z. They certainly deserve someone with your attitude and it helps them to learn better, too. When I look back at my school years at any level, I remember very few of my teachers. The ones I do remember were the ones that impressed me the most at the time. I’m sure these kids will remember you 50 years from now, too.


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