It’s back to school time, a season that used to fill me with dread. This year is different.  I’m looking forward to teaching fresh arrivals from France. I never dreamed there would be a payoff for my past academic struggles but it connects me with students who need help the most. 

You can spot them by their body language and attitude. They give the impression they would rather be anywhere than English class. Sometimes I hear that one these back row residents is a “troublemaker.” I immediately think – That’s my kind of guy. 

Regardless of their reputation, it’s important to find common ground with students -particularly the disengaged ones. I’ve learned that the most indifferent student can be motivated, if you care enough to find a shared interest. For instance, I had a student named “Marie” who drove the campus crazy with her odd behavior. 

On the first day of class, Marie and I discovered our favorite composer was Maurice Ravel. I never had a problem with her after that and she was a great asset to our class. I later received a thank you when I wrote her a recommendation praising her language skills.

“Jacque” was another music-loving student who didn’t care much for the classroom. When I learned about his passion for rap, I figured he might like poetry. Sure enough, I was ready to read a Robert Frost poem to the class, when Jacque jumped up. Though he had never seen the poem before, he read it with great expression. Jacque went from being a back row guy to a student I could count on to participate.

Finally, who can forget “Etienne” who slept soundly through all my classes? He even fell asleep when I had a guest speaker. Between naps, though, he handed in the most amazing assignments. I finally spoke to him about his sleepiness. Etienne confessed that he was “lazy” and a “bad student.”

I assured him that he wasn’t “bad” as far as I was concerned. In fact, he was the most gifted writer in the class. I also thought he was more bored than lazy. Finally, I confided that I had been a “bad student” and was living proof that guys like us could succeed. 

I’m telling these stories to show that any student can be reached. However, being a former academic struggler does not alone qualify me to teach. I need all the help I can get. So, you can imagine how thankful I was to run into Claudia Medina. 

Claudia travels the world instructing ESL teachers. She operates an ESL consulting company out of the family home in Forest Park. Claudia uses Montessori methods that combine music with language and make learning fun. She offered to teach me and my ESL team activities that will engage our French students. 

Claudia is also bringing her teaching skills to District 91 this fall.  I don’t think she’ll have any trouble with “bad” students. According to Claudia, they don’t exist.  

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.

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