FADED AND JADED AS I AM after teaching all sorts of things at all sorts of levels to all sorts of ages for the past 40 years (I have done everything from managing a daycare center to teaching law school faculty), I pretty much got cured of my cynicism – in one long day.
Several years ago I decided to offer to be a substitute teacher at Trinity School of Durham and Chapel Hill as a way of paying them back for helping out my nephew who had attended Trinity the year before.
Mark is a bright kid, a really bright kid. I first met him at age five. The question I asked myself then was not, "Will he win a Nobel Prize?" but "I wonder which one?" At four and five Mark would have his mother read him science books, especially, biology and botany, that, she says, she didn’t understand. Other kids at his age ask for "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish."
As smart as Mark was, and is, he was a round peg in square hole all through school.
Mark came to Durham for the Hill Center, whose programs "for students with learning differences" are half day, so he needed a "home school" for the other part of the day. He ended up in Trinity School mostly because in was where he could get in at a late date, and they worked to help get him qualified.
The Hill Center was very good for Mark; Trinity was course changing.
As he said to his mother one day after he had been at Trinity for a few weeks, "I didn’t know that teachers could be nice." His time at Trinity was clearly the best school experience he had ever had -- educationally, socially and spiritually.
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Then one night at 8 p.m. I get called by a teacher at Trinity School asking if I could sub for a fifth grade class the next day. My immediate thought/prayer: "Dear Lord, what have I gotten myself into?" The answer was to come.
The next morning I woke early, after a night of fitful sleep, and headed to Trinity, just off Erwin Road, just few minutes from my house. I wore a tie. The other fifth grade teacher showed me the classroom, gave me the day’s lesson plans and told me she would be in the classroom next door if I needed her. I tried to figure out how to knock a hole in the wall so we could communicate continuously.
I did my best to understand what the day’s schedule was – but mostly I depended on eleven-year olds to tell what we were supposed to do next. Believe it or not, they did.
We did some serious math. We did a stint of spelling. Then they went out to recess and ran around and played games happily without any assistance from me. Later we studied ancient Roman history and culture. I read to them during lunch – and they listened.
At one point, I definitely realized I was not in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro school system. The schedule read: "10:00–10:20 – Prayer." My fearful thought was: "Oh no, I’m going to have to pray out loud for 20 minutes?"
In a moment of inspiration, I asked, "So, the schedule says, ‘Prayer,’ how does that work?" Two girls quickly answered, "Today’s our day to lead prayer!" And they did. The students each made prayer requests and then they prayed sincere and heartfelt prayers, mostly for their fellow students and their families.
Now, I don’t want to candy-coat my experience. It was largely unsuccessful in one respect. As hard as I worked, as much as I tried, nothing, nothing I could do would cure them of being 11 years old. They’re just like that. They were as full of energy at the end of the day as they were to begin it.
The worst experience of the whole day was when another teacher, rightfully, had to ask me to quiet my class. They were being too enthusiastic in asking questions.
As I lined them up for dismissal, at least 10 minutes before I should have, one of the girls ran up to me with arm extended and her palm raised, and said, "Stop! Stay right there!" Then she ran back to a group of students who were in a tight circle.
I’m standing there -- and I’m worn out -- and I’m mystified. When they break their huddle they deliver this cheer: "Thank you for being our teacher today, Dr. Gaddy!!!"
Does that give you any idea why I love Trinity School?
Gary D. Gaddy really is a sometime substitute at the Trinity School, though, he is, as you might expect, on the very bottom of the sub list.
This article was published in the Chapel Hill Herald Thursday August 30, 2007. Copyright 2007 Gary D. Gaddy