Karl Childs: How I learned that it's OK to trust our teenagers
Mrs. Snow was a stubborn, demanding teacher. There were times I liked her and times she was just an hour I had to get through on my way to the final 2:30 afternoon bell. There were also times I really disliked her. She was tough. But I still haven’t forgotten her or the lesson she taught me.
Mrs. Snow taught high school German. German wasn’t my favorite subject, but I thought one day I'd like to travel, maybe even to Germany. Since it filled a foreign language credit, I took the class.
German One was held in a portable classroom outside the main high school building. I remember the classroom clearly, 20 or so desks arranged in a neat square, facing the front of the classroom to the north. There were pictures and maps of Germany hung on the walls. Mrs. Snow’s desk sat up front, next to a large self-contained bookcase on wheels where she kept a large assortment of books, manuals and recordings, all about Germany and the German language.
Mrs. Snow had dark, curly short hair and thin-rimmed glasses. She usually held a soft smile on her face, but could look at the class with a stern look and a pause that would bring almost instant silence. As daunting as her no-nonsense look could be, she still managed to get us to warm up to her by telling us stories of her life. She had plenty of experiences from her time living in Germany, where she learned to speak Russian by taking a class taught by a German-speaking instructor, even though her native language was English. She entertained us with reports of her harrowing drives to school with no working front brakes, using only her emergency brake, since she had no money to fix her car. And she would mention Mr. Snow once in a while, although we didn’t get much insight on him.
What I remember most clearly though, especially with the benefit of time and retrospect on my side, is the lesson of trust she tried to teach each of us. Mrs. Snow was of the opinion that we didn’t have to be proven trustworthy. We started out as a trustworthy individuals. Only our own actions could prove otherwise, and it was completely up to us.
I learned this lesson by watching Mrs. Snow relate to one of the toughest kids in the class. This was the type of kid I only looked at out of the corner of my eyes, never daring to look at him straight on, but intrigued by how he acted or what his lifestyle was like and who he hung around. He (I’ll call him Kurt) was often absent from class, although still hanging out at school or home sick or just somewhere else I didn’t know. I don’t know what his grades were, although I could guess he wasn’t at the top of the class. He was apparently disgruntled, hated being there and showed it by his actions. I saw that clearly one day by seeing him make an obscene gesture behind the teacher’s back.
I like to think Kurt wanted positive reinforcement from Mrs. Snow and would have liked a good grade, even if he was unwilling to put in the work. Mrs. Snow provided plenty of opportunities to get a good grade. She gave her students access to the materials she stored in the large bookcase next to her desk in order to earn extra credit or to better prepare for her exams. I watched as one day during class, she brought Kurt up to her desk to talk with him. She offered him a chance for some extra points by taking advantage of one of her resources out of the bookcase. They must have decided on one, because she retrieved an item and handed it to him. He asked if she needed to write his name down, to record that he had the item.
“Nope,” she replied. “I trust that you’ll get it back to me.”
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