SOAPBOX: In a world of worksheets, longtime teacher helps students 'believe that they matter'

By KJZZ News
Published: Tuesday, September 26, 2023 - 11:53am
Updated: Tuesday, September 26, 2023 - 12:45pm

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On KJZZ's SOAPBOX, The Show turns over the the mic to listeners. Do you ever wonder what your kid's teacher is thinking? This week we're hearing from Arizona educators for the latest collection in our SOAPBOX series, where listeners tell their own true stories. This time the theme is The Classroom, and first up is Ruth Boyle, who teaches high school French — and a few life lessons, as well. 

Ruth Boyle
Julie Riemenschneider
Ruth Boyle

As a young teacher, I couldn’t shake the idea that the most important part of my job was to drill content. Methods at the time were still very traditional, lots of notes and worksheets, and an emphasis on all the details of spelling and grammar, regardless of proficiency. 

Thirty years later, I yearn for my students to know themselves and reach their truth. An unlikely student brought this home for me about halfway through my career. I don’t remember exactly when Max became my student, and I’m not even sure how many times he took French 1. I’m pretty certain that he never passed the class. 

Despite non-existent study skills, an inability to engage in the classroom, and a tendency to cut-up with his buddies, Max wanted to do well. When his peers weren’t in earshot he was earnest and respectful, and seemed pleased at any small successes.  

Near the end of the year, Max began to show up after school for extra help, most likely at the prompting of the wrestling or football coach. Max’s efforts were sporadic, and it really became clear that there was no way in the world that he would be able to make up for a year of lackluster effort and gain enough mastery of the content to pass the class.  

I realized, though, that passing the class wasn’t that important, and I decided that each time Max made the effort to come in for help, I would drop everything and work with him for as long as he stayed, giving him my full attention and validating his efforts. 

Max did graduate, without any World Language credits as far as I know, and he showed up at my classroom door a few years later. I didn’t recognize him at first. His hair was neatly combed, and he wasn’t wearing the stretched out tank top that I remembered him in.  

As soon as he said his name, though, I made the connection. I was so touched that he had come to check in.  All those years ago, he hadn’t had any interest in being in my class or in learning French, but we had somehow made a connection because I had recognized him as an individual in his own right. He seemed to really want to let me know that he was doing well. He was working as a teppan chef!  Is that a cool job or what?!  

As I near the end of my career, the most important part of my job, for me, is to make sure that my students feel valued. I want them to know that they are worthy of success, worthy of happiness, and are beautiful souls just as they are. It’s a daunting task for educators. The odds are stacked against us. Standardized testing, curriculum maps, graduation requirements, coveted class rankings.

In the grand scheme, though, none of that matters. What matters is meeting students where they are, and making them believe that they matter.  

Max — if you happen to hear this — thank you, and I hope you’re doing well.

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