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Virginia Journal of Education


On Point

What Keeps Us Going


by Deborah Powers

Sometimes a heartfelt ‘thank-you’ is the best reward a teacher can get. I recently received this letter from one of my former fourth grade students who I have remained in touch with. She wrote it just before she moved to New Orleans to begin a fresh new life and college.

Dear Deb,

Do you remember my fourth grade year at Cassell Elementary School? Do you remember the stories I wrote, the books I read, the friends I made (or didn't make)? I had some good times and rough times.

One of the most influential moments that year was when I broke one of your most important rules in the classroom—no cheating. I remember it was a big test, a math test, in the middle of the day and I was using a calculator. You had told every student before administering the test that no calculators were allowed. Yet I used one. I wanted the best score on the test, the best grade in the class and, most of all, higher grades than my brother would bring home on his report card.

A few minutes into the test, you caught me using the calculator. Instead of sending me to the office or punishing me, you took me to the back of the classroom for a talk. I might have been crying—hopefully, I said I'm sorry, but you looked me straight in the eye and even got down on your knees to talk. I don't remember your exact words, but you told me that I was a bright girl and that I did not need a calculator to take the test. You asked me, "Jessica, why would you cheat and use a calculator when you already know how to answer the problems?" You reminded me of a game we had played earlier in the week and how well I answered the math problems on the blackboard without using a calculator.

You took the test that I had started, took away the calculator, and gave me a fresh, clean, unanswered test. You gave me a second chance. You didn't say another word to me for the rest of the day, but I do remember you smiling at me when I handed you my completed math test. I got on the bus that afternoon feeling really bad, thinking that you might have called my parents. But when I got home I realized that you never did, that you really gave me a second chance to prove to myself that I could do something without cheating.

The next day during math you handed back the graded tests. When you handed my test back you gave me back my calculator and whispered, "I knew you could do it." I had gotten a 100 on my test. You gave me the confidence I didn't know I had that week.

Of course, there have been many other times when you've given me the confidence to achieve my goals. But second chances are hard to come by. You let me join you in 2002 for a whole year in a mentorship. I came to you with my grievances and my heartaches, and you always made me feel better about myself.

Deb, you've been my friend for many years. I think it all started when you reached out to a scared little nine-year-old and told her, "You can do it." Of course, you've been saying that for 12 years now—Deb, when are you going to come up with something new? I'm just kidding because you did and you never realized it. And you did it in your own way, by telling me about your family in Kentucky and how well your sons are doing. You told me that, "there is life out there."

I'm going to finish college and achieve dreams and goals, but I will always be thankful for the people who have made such a difference in my life. Thank you, Deb.  I will miss you more than you'll ever know.

                                                                        Love,
                                                                        Your friend, Jessica

Powers, a member of the Augusta County Education Association, teaches at Wilson Elementary School in Fishersville.

 


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