Aurora counselor and former teacher recalls a lesson her students once taught her
Cindi Grace has worked in education for 30 years.
In this round of our ongoing series Making a Difference: A Note from the Teacher, we hear first person essays from teachers in the rural Ozarks. This segment features Cindi Grace, counselor at Aurora Junior High School in Aurora, Missouri.
My name is Cindi Grace, and I am currently the Jr. High Counselor at Aurora Jr. High School in Aurora, MO. Aurora is a small community of approximately 7,432 people and is located in Lawrence County in Southwest Missouri. I have spent 30 years working in Missouri’s rural school system. Today, I want to share the best lesson my students ever taught me. After my first two years of teaching not far from my hometown, I yearned for a new adventure. When a former principal contacted me and offered me a teaching position in east central Missouri three hours from my parents, I jumped on the opportunity. I was assigned to teach freshman English. Prior to the first day, the other three teachers in my department tried to prepare me for the task ahead. The freshman class was one of the largest classes this school district had ever had. They had earned the reputation for “running teachers off” after two of their previous teachers resigned mid-year. The class had been dubbed, “rowdy, difficult and insubordinate.” Heeding my mentor's warning, I brushed up on discipline procedures, posted the classroom rules on my walls and had my seating charts ready.
After attendance had been taken for my first hour class, a red-headed boy in the front row puffed out his chest and remarked, “I guess you have heard about us.” All movement in the classroom stopped and sweat began to formed above my lip. I could see students grinning in silent unity as they allowed their elected official to welcome me to the new territory..
I looked directly at the boy and lied, “What do you mean? I haven’t heard anything.”
I could see the boy stumble in silence. He must have rehearsed his speech several times but hadn’t prepared a response for my answer.
Picking up the gauntlet, his co-conspirator rose to action, “ Well, we have a reputation for running teachers off.”
Looking at him quizzingly, I stated, “What do you mean?”
“We drove our last teacher off,” the co-conspirator paused dramatically to give me time to soak in his words. He continued, “She couldn’t handle us.”
Recovering his valor, the red-headed boy stated, “We ran our last two teachers off.”
The co-conspirator responded, “No, it wasn’t the last two teachers. The first one had a baby…”
The red-headed boy and his co-conspirator began to argue back and forth about the particulars of exactly how many teachers they “ran off” and why.
Interrupting the flow of their conversation, I responded, “Well, I have been a teacher for awhile and I care too much about your education to leave you in the middle of the year without a teacher.” The boys were stunned and subdued.
Throughout the rest of the day, my reputation was beginning to spread and another master plan was being hatched. For the rest of this story, you need to know that I grew up in southwest Missouri and was unfamiliar with the slang used in Central Missouri. My downfall from triumph would be led by the girl, who would later become class valedictorian and a group of future Honor Society students. They devised a plan to use their “slang” against me.
Throughout the day and prior to my last hour class, students in my classroom started making comments about a group of unholy ruffians named the “Weuns” and the “Ewans.”
“Ewans are mean. Ewans ain’t gonna like your classes. Ewans ain’t gonna be able to do lunch detention or stay after school.”
“Weuns won’t like that. It’s going to be hard for you. Weuns don’t do homework.”
Since these comments were made in such a helping manner by student’s that I perceived as allies wishing to support me, I did not appreciate that they were slowly eroding my confidence. During each class, I would have at least one honor student discuss the Weuns and Ewans. Although I presented with an iron-clad exterior, my confidence began to quiver. My heart began racing each time the Ewans or Weuns were mentioned. For the rest of the day, I scanned class rosters frantically looking for these Ewan and Weun students.
Unable to quiet my anxiety, I stepped out into the hallway before my last class of the day. I approached my mentor and the two other English teachers. Calming my nerves, I looked at my mentor and said, “could you point out the Ewans and Weuns?”
Looking at me blankly, she said, “What?”
“The Ewans and Weuns, “ I repeated. “The kids have been talking about these kids all day, and I am getting a little nervous.”
Stone silent, the English Department stared at me. Then, they looked at each other stunned and bewildered. Suddenly, my fellow English Teachers erupted into laughter for several minutes. One had to hold her breath in order to stop laughing.
My mentor explained, “ Here Youins is the same as “ you all” in the South. Weuns means We All.”
With a sigh of relief, I began laughing wildly. As I explained to my fellow comrades that I had been living the day in dread of the “Ewans” and “Weuns,” the other three teachers also erupted into side splitting laughter.
The one thing I have most appreciated about kids and students is when I am outwitted. I had been defeated not by defiance or disruption. My confidence and bravado had been undermined by a group of brilliant and helpful future leaders.
I will retire at the end of this school year. To quote Steven Jobs, “You’ve got to find what you love.” My love was teaching and working with students. I have worked with approximately 7000 students during my 30 years in Rural Missouri schools. I am grateful that teaching found me, and it has been both an honor and a privilege to be an Educator and School Counselor.