True Teacher Confession #2: Sometimes I Judge Too Quickly

Beth Maloney Education, Elementary, Life in the Classroom

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I am not in the habit of asking that students not be placed in my classroom.  In fact, I usually troll the 4th grade teachers at the end of the year and ask for students with siblings that were in my class, in our drama program, or just kids I’ve connected with over the years.  One major benefit of teaching at the same school for twelve years is the relationships with siblings and families that develop over time in our community.  But I recall a conversation with a 4th grade teacher where I asked her to put a particular student in another 5th grade class the next year.

Before you judge me too quickly, let me give you the background on this student I didn’t particularly want in my class.  Let’s call him Sam.  Sam’s 4th grade classroom was next to my classroom and we’d had frequent run-ins in the hallway over his 4th grade year.  He was one of those kids who tended to be in the hallway A LOT.  My students would often come back from the bathrooms complaining that Sam had picked a fight with them on the way, that was drawing graffiti in the stalls, or that he was flushing random objects down the toilets.  Our hallway run-ins would often devolve into screaming (him, not me) and running away (again, him, not me, though I’ll admit I was tempted to run away the few times he swung punches at me).

As fate would have it, Sam’s name appeared on my class list the next year.  When it was time for Meet the Teacher Night, I was a bit anxious to see what Sam’s reaction to being in my class would be.  If I were this nervous about having him in my class, how must he feel?  I tried to be extra welcoming to Sam and express lots of excitement about our year ahead, while secretly dreading what felt like a long year of potential verbal and physical altercations.  He told me in no uncertain terms that night that my classes would be his worst – he hated to read because he was terrible at it and thought social studies was dumb and boring.

I took that as a challenge.  I won’t lie to you and tell you that our year together was all sunshine and rainbows.  There were some fights as we learned each other’s expectations, needs, and boundaries, but there was also growth, respect, and maturity (from both of us).    He learned that when you are in our classroom, we are a team and we must work together to accomplish our goals.  I learned that Sam would read any comic or sports book and I made investments in my classroom library to help him bloom as a reader.  It turns out that Sam loved U.S. history when he felt invested in the subjects.  His game during our annual 5th grade Colonial Fair was a huge hit and his smile was from ear to ear as he demonstrated how to play quoits.  Sam’s deep, contagious chuckle is still one of my favorite sounds in the world.

Fast forward to our Honor Roll assembly at the end of a quarter.  Sam didn’t earn an award that quarter, but the assembly seemed to light a fire in him.  He leaned over me and said with a very serious expression, “Mrs. Maloney, get ready.  ‘Cause next quarter that’ll be me up there getting that Honor Roll certificate.”

Indeed, by the next quarter, I beamed as Sam received a high-five and a Principal’s Honor award for his grades, as well as an award for exceptional effort.  Thanks for teaching me a valuable lesson, Sam.


I am in my twentieth year of teaching and enjoy every minute of my time in the classroom. I have taught kindergarten, third grade, and currently teach fifth-grade science and social studies in Surprise, Arizona. I am an enthusiastic public school advocate. I am a National Board Certified Teacher and a Candidate Support Provider for the Arizona K12 Center, where I coach and mentor other teachers undergoing the rigorous National Board certification. I am the past president and co-founder of the Arizona National Board Certified Teacher Network and president and founder of the Arizona Chapter of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. I am honored to be Arizona’s 2014 Teacher of the Year and appreciate having the opportunity to represent the teachers of Arizona. I love talking with and learning from other teachers around the world. I strongly believe that teacher voice in the public education dialogue is the best way to make change for the better for all students.

Comments 4

  1. Christine Porter Marsh

    I love this post. I think all teachers have had experiences when–for whatever reason–that have to teach a child about whom they have preconceived notions. Getting beyond those pre-conceptions is 100% necessary and sometimes bring gifts–like you and Sam experienced.

  2. kbuffett

    What a great post. Thank you for being so candid and honest with your readers. Back when I was in school, there were always a handful of kids who were given “bad reputations” from very early on that they never seemed to completely get away from.

    I think that, most of the time, having a bad reputation often turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. It because of teachers like you, who are dedicated and passionate towards their students, that some of these students can realize that they’re not so bad after all.

    I was very happy to read that Sam was able to finally see his own potential. If he was never in your class, that realization might not have ever happened.

  3. Jen Robinson

    Thank you for sharing this post. I love that you said, “I won’t lie to you and tell you that our year together was all sunshine and rainbows. There were some fights as we learned each other’s expectations, needs, and boundaries, but there was also growth, respect, and maturity (from both of us).” I think about those tough kids or any of our kids and often wonder what we are suppose to learn from them about ourselves and teaching.

  4. Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    I think a lot of teachers can relate to this experience. I have had similar ones (though perhaps not with the honor roll outcome! Kudos to both of you!) I have also had years where I asked that a student receive another teacher because I felt that the student deserved a fresh start, and if I felt that I couldn’t effectively give that fresh start. It is rare, but it happens. I think, though, that a lot of teachers make those requests with too little evidence, and we could all do well to give our relationships with kids more of a chance more often.

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