The Homework Question


I met Shelby on a college campus where she was pursuing a graduate degree in social work. She chatted with me about Mrs. Berns, the fourth grade teacher who inspired her career path and taught her to identify and respond to the needs of others.

I loved going to Mrs. Berns’ classroom. It was a peaceful sanctuary in my otherwise chaotic young life. I was always well behaved in school. However, I felt like an annoyance to my teachers, except for Mrs. Berns. I was scattered, constantly losing or forgetting things. The other teachers were visibly annoyed by my missing papers and library books. They scolded me for my disorganized backpack. Just a few weeks into my fourth grade year, Mrs. Berns noticed that I had not turned in homework for several days. I was ready for her to lecture me, but instead she asked me a question. “Do you have a quiet place to do your homework after school?” I shook my head. She continued, “What is your after school time like?”

I explained that I usually went to one of my aunt’s houses because my mom had to work. Sometimes I went to my grandma’s house. I never really knew where I would end up. I went with the relative who could take me. If my mom worked late, I slept at a relative’s house. This happened more often than not. So, my belongings were always scattered all over the place, and never where I needed them.

Mrs. Berns stood there for a minute; then she walked over and cleared off a little desk by the window. She placed some paper and a box of pencils on the desk. She told me to pick up my breakfast in the morning and come directly to my new “homework spot” instead of waiting for the bell with the other kids. I happily worked on my homework every morning, and I kept my library books and other important things inside the desk. The routine was comforting, and I treasured the extra time with Mrs. Berns. She made a big impact by finding out what I needed most and providing it.

Shelby’s story speaks to the power of asking questions. A big opportunity for impact would have been missed if Mrs. Bern’s had chosen lecturing over listening. When did a teacher ask you an important question and really listen to the answer? Share in the comments below.

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