Editor’s note: Names of teachers and students have been changed.
Madame Logan is a retired high school French teacher. She was filled with stories of former students who had contacted her to tell her of the effects she had on them.
Most of these effects were, at best, indirectly related to the French they had learned in her class.
One of her students is now a film critic, and he said the the foreign films he watched on French class trips (this was before DVD players when Madame Logan took students to an actual movie theater near the school) contributed to his career choice.
Another said Madame Logan’s speeches about the best ways to handle stress are why she teaches yoga.
Madame Logan organized beach clean-ups and fundraisers to purchase acres of rainforest. Many students went into environmental sciences, and many more have attributed their environmental awareness to her.
Her value clearly went beyond her French instruction.
Madame Logan also told many stories of kids who came to her for help with a range of issues. Some students came out to her before telling their families about their sexuality.
But the story that stuck with Madame Logan — the one she explained to me in the most detail — was the day one of her best students, a very quiet, high-achieving girl, told her she wanted to talk to her after class. Madame Logan remembers her student shaking, and when she asked what was wrong?
The girl told her: “I have a gun and I’m going to kill my sisters tonight. I can’t take the pressure anymore.”
The girl told Madame Logan of her family’s escape from an abusive father. She was now working at night to help her mother and to support her younger sisters. She had been abused by her older sister and she was now responsible for the younger ones who were into drugs and were no longer listening to her. She was looking for an escape from the situation.
“I stayed with her until 8pm that night,” Madame Logan said. “We talked a lot. I told her that we all get that angry sometimes.”
Madame Logan gave the girl her phone number, told her she’d be by the phone all night if she needed anything and that she would get her help the next day. After the hours of talking, she told the student to go home and to run around the block three times before she went in.
“I figured that no one ever killed anyone when they were really tired,” Logan told me.
There was no distressed phone call that night, and the next day, Madame Logan and the girl’s English teacher got her to the counselor.
In the coming weeks and months, the student got help. It turned out there were some chemical imbalances, and as these were treated. The girl ended up graduating from high school and college.
These stories are not anomalies. This experience is not unique to Madame Logan. Again and again in conversations with teachers, I hear about events like this which change the course of students lives.
I’m sharing these stories to remind us of the range of value teachers bring to the lives of their students, and the range of skills they need to deal with the children in front of them.
This is not to say that the academic part of a teacher’s job is not the priority, and I am not advocating any method of evaluating teachers that de-emphasizes their traditional academic role.
I know Madame Logan’s prowess as an educator. I had her for third-year French, and hers was the hardest class I’ve ever taken (including graduate school). I still remember countless vocabulary words and verb conjugations from that year in her room.
But as a professional, she recognized that teaching French well was not just about verb endings. She recognized that academics do not happen in a vacuum. She understood all of the other important roles teachers have to play in order to be successful academically.
The lesson for us then, when we define the value teachers add, is that if our evaluation systems ignore all these roles beyond the strictly academic, then we our teachers and their students a disservice. And, ultimately, we will not help improve academic performance at all.
Jeremy Glazer is a Miami-Dade teacher writing a series about classroom issues for StateImpact Florida. Want to sound off on something Glazer has written? Want to suggest a topic for him? Send us an email at Florida@stateimpact.org and put “Classroom Contemplations” in the subject line.