Sunday, August 30, 2015

Student made a Difference in Life of a Teacher

Every student needs an advocate. Even the ones who get a bit mouthy, challenge you, and bounce all over the room with ideas. When I student taught in the fall of 1988 in a small rural town outside of Newton, Kansas, I encountered such a kid. 

He’d gotten into some trouble in his hometown school so he attended nearby Halstead. He was personable, witty, and smart. His name was Steve Elliott. 

Steve was a part of a small group of freshman I taught from the Class of 1992. 

They were a rowdy bunch, unlike the sophomores and juniors that I taught under my main cooperating teacher, Lois Loflin. 

She's the one who suggested that I also teach freshman—that way my certification would be valid for upper elementary.

I am certified 5-12 English, rarely seen now days. It means I don’t do cutesy bulletin boards, but I know grammar and a bit about Shakespeare and poetry to the point where I might be able to get a 10-year-old, as well as a 10th grader, interested in it. And since I’m a secondary English major, I am a comma fiend. 

So in addition to Loflin, I had a freshman class under a different teacher. They talked while the teacher was talking, bickered with each other, and seemed uninterested in learning. It was a rowdy bunch.

Maybe all freshmen are like this, but I don't know because I have not taught the age group since.

One can about imagine what happened when it came time for me to take over the teaching duties with the freshmen. I was the young thing, not even taller than most of them, and what did I know about teaching English. I also knew my supervising teacher from my college would be judging me on classroom management. So when I tried to break their chatty habits, I was met with resistance. Eventually, things got better, and I'm sure glad this cooperating teacher supported me.


One day.

There was a sub. A sub that thought she was in charge.

I was doing a punctuation review game, but this sub went into armed-guard mode. Her helicopter monitoring of the students turned them inside out. The kids rebelled, talked back to her, and bucked me. They'd never quite acted that way before--even with their regular teacher, so this shocked me.

I went home that Friday never wanting to return even though my classes under Loflin were going fine. The progress I'd made with the freshmen, thanks to the help of this cooperating teacher, was all undone that day by a sub that didn't know how far they'd come, and they felt like she nitpicked their behavior.

I wasn't sure how I was going to get through another couple months with those freshmen. Come Monday, I made a gutsy move. I told my cooperating teacher what happened with the sub and suggested that we split the class. I'd teach half and he'd teach the other half. He'd use my lesson plans, so that way he'd still know if I was on track with the content.

I made a list of the challenging students and split them up. We did a lottery system for the rest. And since I took what I thought he would see as some of the biggest stinkers, he agreed. We found an available room for me to teach them in, and he stayed in his classroom to teach the other half.

the freshmen ~ Steve is third from the right

It was with this small group of freshmen that I really connected with Steve. He made me feel like I was okay. That I could make it as a teacher. That my expectations of their behavior weren't out of line. That I could show a little bit of my sense of humor and maintain management of the classroom.

I would survive. And they would learn.

My student teaching days were coming to an end, but I didn't know if I still wanted to teach.

Until one day shortly before Christmas at the end of the term, I received a note from Vickie, Steve's mom.

It was written on a piece of blue scratch paper.

the note

Vickie's words helped shape my future.

I did get to meet Vickie when I attended Steve's wrestling meet. In fact, I got to spend an early Thanksgiving with them one year at their home. I made a trip to see Steve perform in the school play too.

And one school year, he made the journey to Cheney for me to help him with his research paper. It was during that visit he suggested we take a break and run to Wichita, so we went to Towne West Mall.

He wore his Bart Simpson shirt with the character giving the bird. I told him to close his jacket and he refused, so I walked on the other side of the mall from him in fear that a Cheney board member would see me walking with him. I never really ever went out of teacher mode with him.

Throughout the years, we've managed to stay in touch. He wrote me letters about his high school crushes, commented on the news of the day, and when he got engaged to his first wife, my sister Brenda went to Tulsa with me so I could meet her.

Years passed. Sometimes I'd get a phone call or a letter. Then a couple years ago we reconnected on Facebook. In 2013, when we were in Omaha for my niece Suzanne's wedding, we met up for lunch. I met his wife Barbie and two children.

And this summer, we had an impromptu get-together at his mom's in Burrton one afternoon—one in which he corrected my grammar.

Whenever I get to be around him, it's like time hasn't passed. He’s the same Steve. What you see is what you get. What he's up to will always matter to me.

Steve with me, summer 2015

We hear stories all the time about a teacher who helped turn a kid around.

With me, it was the other way around.

My heart knows that I would not be a teacher today had it not been for Steve Elliott and his mom.

The year after I taught Steve, I encountered a few more like him. Students in a classroom of my own. Kids who made me feel like I could do the job.

And do it for a long time.


  1. Melodie, thanks for sharing this story. In my career I also had a number of special students - often those who had behavior issues initially.

    Hope you have a wonderful school year! And I hope for more uplifting encounters for you!

    1. Thanks, Sheila! A colleague of mine says I am partial to noisy (sometimes naughty) boys. I do admit they are full of personality. Thanks for the greetings too.

  2. I knew him many years ago .. I would visit My grandmother in burton .he was a nice friend ..going back to Canada was hard after the summers were over

    1. I can about imagine, Leslie! Glad you found this piece in which I share about the influence he had on me.