The Power of One Good Student
In my last post, I told the story of T. J. Oshie as an example of how a group of good students can affect an individual. But is it possible for an individual student to have a significant influence on a class? The answer is a resounding, "Yes!" Having Nick in my class taught me that lesson very well.
Class discussion is an important part of almost any social studies class. There is nothing like a good class discussion to make otherwise dry material meaningful to high school students. But there have been times when I've conducted class discussions on the same subject on the same day, and gotten completely different results in different classes. In one hour, there will be a number of kids who jump into the discussion with both feet, and my most difficult task is to keep the kids from interrupting each other. Then, in the next class, it might be like pulling teeth just to get a few kids to say, "Yeh," "Nope," or the ever popular, "I dunno." The difference in the class might be made by only three of four students, and sometimes it can be just one.
Like T. J. Oshie and his friends, Nick was a member of the Warroad High School Class of 2005 (Yes, that was quite a class!), so I had him in one of my American History classes four years ago. Nick was a big, bright, good-natured young kid, and I've never had a student who was better in class discussions. Every teacher knows what it's like to have kids walk into class and say, "Do we have to do this again?" when they find out what is planned for the day. Teachers in our school never had to worry about hearing that when Nick bounded into class. In fact, any day I had class discussions planned, I could count on hearing him say something like, "I love these!" As a teacher, I'm here to tell you that makes you feel pretty good.
Nick loved to laugh and he loved to argue, and he was one of those rare teenagers who could get himself to really care about things that happened 100 or 200 years ago. You want to talk about whether or not we should have gone to war with Britain in 1812? Nick could get fired up about it. Better yet, he could get other kids fired up about it. When Nick was in my class he would literally goad other students into getting involved. As a result, his class consistently had the best discussions of any of the American History classes that I had that year. There were a number of times that class would argue right up until the bell rang and then they'd continue the argument in their later classes. Some of the other teachers didn't appreciate it, but I sure felt good about it. Nick was a very special student.
I am the sophomore class advisor, and one morning in December, our principal, Bill Kirkeby, called me out to the hallway from my first hour class. He said that we were going to have to call of our sophomores into our mini-theatre to meet with them. I asked him why, and he replied that he was going to have to tell the sophomores that Nick had died. When his father had gone to his room to wake him up in the morning, he thought it was strange that Nick's reading light was still on. He had suffered an aneurism sometime shortly after going to bed.
Obviously, this was a terrible personal tragedy for Nick's family and many friends. His funeral was held in our gymnasium, and the next month was a very emotional period in our school. Mention Nick's name any time during the rest of the year, and some girls in my classes would break into tears.The sophomores on our hockey team had his initials pasted on the back of their helmets, and players on our other athletic teams did similar things. But besides the personal tragedy, Nick's death was also a real blow to the education that took place in our school. He was not just missed because everyone liked him so much and because of his fantastic personality; he was also missed because of the contribution he made in every class he had attended.
My American History class that he had been in was never the same. It was still a good class, but it was never again what it had been when Nick was there. I can still picture in my mind students who took part in almost every discussion when Nick was there, but almost never got involved after he was gone. Our discussions in that class were just never able to take off the way they had before, because Nick was no longer there to get his friends going.
Do good students make a difference in the learning of their classmates? You bet they do. Nick was a student who his classmates and I will never forget.