I’m up late grading papers, about to quit for the night, and somehow in my distraction, I got to thinking aimlessly.

My thoughts for some reason turned back to my eighth graders last year from student teaching, many of whom I still think about and wonder how they’re doing in high school this year. And as I thought about that, I thought about the last day of student teaching and how my cooperating teacher for that group acted.

I admit that I am a little bitter still about being robbed of a final moment with a class that was a struggle to connect with. I think singing them a song they had talked about for the majority of the time I was there would have solidified the memory, and instead, the time was spent watching narcoleptic cats, which none of the students enjoyed as much as the co-op did. And the send-off that we got as a class was almost entirely provided by me, since the teacher bailed on bringing drinks as he had agreed to.

But I am a believer in learning what I teach, and this practice has affected me profoundly during the discussion I’ve had with my sophomores over To Kill a Mockingbird. The model of Atticus Finch and his saintly heuristic of “walking in someone else’s skin/shoes” provides a high moral standard, and the fact that he turns it to people in the novel that seem at first glance to be just bad people (Mrs. Dubose, for one; Bob Ewell, for another) demonstrates how difficult it is to hold it consistently.

I can’t say that I ever thought my co-op was a bad guy or a bad teacher; I just judged those actions as severely deficient and mostly thoughtless. And to a degree, I stand by that. But I have reconsidered why those actions might have been made.

Part of my understanding here had to do with the situation created by my entry into the classroom. The dynamic between the co-op and his students was built on charisma: the students, especially the female ones (of which there were a slight majority), were attached to him because he made them laugh and joked around a lot. Because there was an attachment, I ran into resistance when I started taking over the instruction, and – no surprise here – some of the most resistant students were girls who may have even had minor crushes on the teacher. Once the students began to see me as a real person trying to help them rather than an interloper disrupting their good thing, then the dynamic started to shift for me. By the end, I saw very positive results, overall.

But I left in early April of last year, which left my co-op with almost two months to deal with the kids. And I don’t mean to be boastful, but playing a song might have left him with a memory that the kids would surely talk about for a while afterwards. By acting like that last day of my time there was nothing other than a normal half-day, he took back the classroom (even though he had already picked up instruction previously) and attempted to reassert the dynamic he had. Frankly, I almost can’t blame him: I wouldn’t want to have something that would hang around the rest of the year.

I’m not going to deny the faults of this teacher – just as I would want to be reminded of my own shortcomings – but thinking about these actions from this perspective does remind me of the ultimate conclusion of Harper Lee’s novel, as skillfully expressed in one of the final lines of the novel, uttered by Atticus Finch:

“Most people are [nice]…when you finally see them.”

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