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Sheryl Green: A very good place to start

Sheryl Green
Sheryl Green

One of my favorite movies of all time is "The Sound of Music." Every Christmas my family would cram into the living room at my grandparents' house in upstate New York and sing along with Julie Andrews and the kids.

I love the movie so much that I took "The Sound of Music" tour in Salzburg, Austria, several years back, even hopping down the steps in front of the famous water fountain singing the "Do-Re-Mi" song. One line in the song is sung by Fraulein Maria when she's trying to teach the children to sing: "Start at the very beginning, a very good place to start."

Just last week, I gave my students a multiple choice test, asking them to answer on the very familiar and often-used Scantron sheet. A Scantron is by far one of the most life-changing inventions for us teachers.

Students simply color in the bubble of their answer choice (A, B, C, D, or E). Number 1-50 on the front, and 51-100 on the back. The teacher then runs the sheets through an amazing machine that can grade 180 multiple choice tests in a matter of seconds. It's almost as important an invention as the white board was when it replaced the dusty chalkboard.

Papers passed out, the quiz began. One of my cherubs raised her hand, lifted up her Scantron sheet and asked, "Ms. Green, where do we start?"

Let me stop right here. There are times in the daily goings-on of classrooms that become monumental events etched into the career of a teacher. Moments to make us cry, make us learn, make us better people. But there are also moments that simply make us laugh. This was one of those moments.

Let's see... where do we start... on a test... on an answer sheet clearly numbered 1-100? I had an immediate choice to make. It's a choice teachers often must make on the fly. Be sarcastic or try to answer the question with a straight face. I chose the latter and simply responded, "Well, let's start at No. 1. Seems like a very good place to start." She didn't even grasp the question she actually asked out loud in front of her peers and just started the quiz... at No. 1, I hoped.

In my mind, I instantly became Julie Andrews on the steps of Salzburg. In the quietness of the quiz, I hopped back down those steps and sang at the top of my lungs the "Do-Re-Mi" song. I had to. If I didn't, I would most assuredly laugh out loud.

The point of this little story is simple. Some of the students teachers teach really do have no concept of where to start. How to begin to rise out of the bitter cycle of poverty. How to start on the road to becoming better at school, better at life. How to break free from stereotypes. How to loosen the chains of low expectations. We may think the concept so easy -- start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. But for many of the students in Columbus, every student's No. 1 isn't crystal clear.

So what do we do? As teachers, we are taught to find where our students are and guide them from there. That's easier said than done, but somehow, someway we do it. Are we perfect at it all the time?

The truthful answer is no, but the effort and the mandate is certainly there.

For the community members outside the classroom, what do we do to show future generations the starting line? It could be as simple as changing our notions about the potential some of our students possess based upon the neighborhood where they board the school bus.

Fraulein Maria broke through rigidity and resistance to gain harmony. If we could do the same, imagine what music Columbus, Ga., would begin making. So, let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.

Sheryl Green is an independent contractor. Contact her at