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Passing the Trust Test
by Will Hobart

I cannot believe it has been a month since I first walked into my West Philadelphia middle school classroom. Just a few short months ago I defined myself as a motivated college student determined to cross the stage at graduation. Now I am the teacher and have quickly learned each student comes with different knowledge, attitudes, and experiences. They all have different levels of trust and I learned quickly not to expect to build it with every student the first day. Each must test and retest me to their standards before assigning me a final grade.
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Round one of assessments from the students began on the second day of school when I asked my students to take a survey home for their parents to complete. The survey included questions such as, What motivates your child? and What are your goals for your child this year? They were the beginning foundations of the strong, complex bridges I wanted to construct connecting myself to all students and their families this year.

This was my first opportunity to express my commitment to the children and allow them their first chance to evaluate and express their sense of trust with me. I received a quick A from Michael who returned his survey the next day, complete with an attached sheet where his mother had written down his every like, dislike, and academic strengths and challenges. Brandon gave me a C -- two days after the surveys were due, he dove head first into his backpack, and extracted a messy, yet completed survey. Then there were students like Myra and Daniel who gave me blatant Fs: They never returned their surveys. Finally there was Xavier who gave me not just one F, but three.

The first came when Xavier ripped up the survey in front of my face. The second F came the next day as he threw the survey in my direction before walking out of class and the final F was balled up and dropped in my trash on his way out of class the third day. It was the fourth attempt with Xavier that he offered me an unforeseen makeup. We were alone in the hallway and he saw me and knew exactly my mission. He looked me in the eye, looked down at the piece of paper in my hand, then grabbed the survey out of my hand and said, Were cool.

While I did not see the survey come back four days later, I knew better than to ask for it. If I wanted it back it was going to have to come on his time and in his way. Sure enough, on a rainy morning a week later, I saw Xavier walking towards me down the long, empty hallway. As he approached I could see he was soaking wet from the downpour. When he stepped closer he dug his hand deep into his right pocket. When it surfaced his long fingers revealed a wet and soggy paper ball. It was my survey, crumpled, but legible. His mothers answer to each and every question was clearly stated in the spaces I had provided. Even with something as small as a survey, I knew at that moment Xavier had kept his deal with me.

The most common piece of advice I have received from veteran teachers has been, The students will test you because you are new and they dont know you. I was able to pass Michaels test the first try, with an A. It took three Fs from Xavier before I would taste my first soggy, but solid A with him. Looking into his big brown eyes and seeing him nod slightly as he handed me his survey that morning gave me an unfamiliar rush of pride and accomplishment bigger than I had ever experienced from any A in college. I never could have prepared myself for that moment. For how good I felt.

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    Article by Will Hobart
    Education World®
    Copyright &copy 2006 Education World

    Posted 10/23/2006