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Payments deferred

Posted: November 15, 2013 11:23 a.m.
Updated: November 18, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Many of the most important occupations receive the smallest salaries. For example, policemen are notoriously underpaid, as are firefighters. Teachers, entrusted with children, the most valuable items for both the parents and the world, receive the least for the most. I remember my first salary to be $2,785 a year! In spite of the fact that I was certainly better looking, more energetic, idealistic and gullible enough to think all students wanted an education and bringing an “A” diploma and teaching certification, the payment was small in terms of money. However, little did I expect or anticipate that the greatest payments of all would be the deferred ones.

Years after I retired, I saw a student who had been in one of my most challenging but rewarding classes. The pupils were not all brilliant, but she was. She said, “I want to tell you that I thought learning had to be painful, but we had so much fun in your class, yet I learned more that I had in all the other English classes put together.” What a reward -- who could make reading, writing, grammar and the classics fun? I hope I did! English was always fun for me.

When I was volunteering in one of my grandchildren’s classes, one of my former students came up to greet me. She is now a teacher. The principal asked, jokingly, “Did you misbehave in Dr. Pruett’s class?” Her eyes opened wide and her mouth dropped open. “Oh, no,” she said. I braced, waiting for her tell him just exactly how demanding I had been about discipline -- true -- when she continued, “we might have missed something!” What a compliment it was to hear a former teenager say she might have missed something her teacher said.

Another pupil greeted me with, “I’ll bet you are glad you aren’t teaching now.” I replied, “Oh, I don’t know; I really enjoyed my classes.” The individual countered, “But we had respect for you.” I laughed and remarked, “Mr. C. said it was fear.” The student then gave me a wonderful compliment: “We respected you because you respected us,” and, with a sidewise glance, added, “and a little fear, too.” What a recipe for a learning environment she gave -- mutual respect and a little fear!

One of the most surprising rewards came one night about 12 o’clock. A male college student, who had been in my class years earlier, was on the phone. Having parents who taught him manners, he began with the usual conversation of my health, some of the individuals we knew, just chitchat. I thought, “He must be drunk,” although he had been a wonderful scholar. Who else would be making a social call at that time of night? When he finally got to the reason he called, he said, “Who wrote the lines ‘No man is an island’?” I had no problem giving him the particulars -- John Donne, “Meditation 17.” He said, “I knew you would know” and politely terminated the conversation. I was perplexed, remembering that, when I taught that particular selection, I looked at the youthful faces, attentive yet unexposed to the vagaries of fate, and thought, “This lesson comes too soon for them; it means nothing.” How wrong I was! The caller was a close friend of another Camden High student who had just taken his life, an untimely death. The young man was looking for consolation and an inclusion for the funeral.

Perhaps the most unexpected payment came not too long ago. When integration occurred, I was determined not to lower my standards or give special treatment to any student. One individual announced to the class, as an illustration, “Now we will get a good education.” I asked, “Why?” Surprised, she said, “We are here.” I countered, “You had four walls, books and teachers in your former school, didn’t you? If a change is to occur, it will have to come from you.” At a later time, I told all my students, “No one can discriminate against you for sex, age, race or gender but rightfully can for ignorance.” To clarify my message of self-responsibility, I placed on the board Dr. Seuss’ simple yet wonderful quote: “You hve brains in your head and feet in your shoes; you may go wherever you choose.” A young man, probably a student of 30 or more years ago, was delighted to see me and made me delighted to see him. He said, “You are the first person who really made me believe I could do anything I wanted to do, even if I were a member of the minority,” and recited from memory Dr. Seuss’ quote. I remarked, “H., I am a minority, too. Women are minorities and have to work much harder to achieve.” He looked surprised, but told me he is now living in Hawaii, where, he said, everyone is a minority. What was so thrilling about the meeting was that he spoke in front of one of his former classmates and then introduced me to his wife and children by repeating the remark. Who would believe that a piece of chalk and a blackboard could achieve what computers and all the other accoutrements of modern schooling seem not to do?

When an individual opens his paycheck and reads the amount, he may not have gotten complete remuneration. The sum may or may not be commensurate to the effort expended. Time may or may not erase the memories stored in the mind. Payments may be deferred.



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