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Why Teach?
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A comment in another blog (wheresmyplan) inspired the following entry:

I often had in my classes the "bad boys" the difficult ones, the angry ones, the abused ones because "you can handle them, Sarah." I remember many of them so clearly, because more often than not they were not only salvageable, but extraordinary young people.

One boy in particular remains in my thoughts. He came into my class dirty, angry, dressed in torn tee shirt, filthy jeans and holey sneakers with no socks. He had a "lazy eye" about which he was teased unmercifully. At the age of 10 he could not read, not the basic 15 words, nothing.

I used to read to the whole class every day after lunch, with the lights turned off and everyone quiet and relaxed. I read Charlotte's Web and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. And then one fateful day I started reading the Just-So Stories and I began with "The Elephant's Child."

This boy was entranced. I could see it in his face, his body language. He fell in love, right in front of me, and it was a turning point in his life. This tough, aggressive, angry, frightened child fell in love with books.

He dawdled around after class until everyone else had left and quietly sidled back into the classroom. He asked me if he could borrow the book. I knew he couldn't read but I would have given him the entire Encyclopedia Britannica if he had asked for it. I had a little paperback copy of "The Elephant's Child" as a standalone mini-book and I gave him that one. I thought maybe he wanted it as a talisman of sorts. He tucked it up underneath his tattered tee where it couldn't be seen, nodded his thanks and left.

I thought no more about it until a few days later when he met me again after class. He wanted to read it to me he said. And to my astonishment, he opened the book and Kipling's words came to life in his mouth. My heart started to pound and my mouth went dry, but as calmly as I could, I pulled the full book of the Just-So Stories off the shelf, turned to "How the Alphabet Was Made" and asked him if he could read it to me. Yes he could, a little hesitantly, but he could read it. He had taught himself to read out of love of the words and the story.

We had a marvellous year together. I got in touch with the Child Welfare people and they convinced his mother to let him have the surgery to correct his vision problem. I bought him secondhand clothes from the Salvation Army and taught him how to operate the washing machine and dryer in the laundromat down the street. I bought him extra lunches at school, because his mother was never home and there wasn't any food except the occasional box of sweetened cereal.

I made him a promise that all this was his business only and not to be shared with any of the other students. He could keep his pride and his head held high and no one needed to know he was getting extra help. Years later I ran into him; he had finished high school and had a good job making over $20 an hour. His eye was normal enough that its problem was not noticeable. And he was happy.

When I asked him what he remembered about his year in my class, he said, "You told us over and over, 'If you can read, you can do anything' and I believed you. I still do." One child saved from the mean streets. All those years of teaching were worth every heartbreaking minute, if just one child made it.

Thank you, Rudyard Kipling.

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