For 23 years Michael Galati has had an influence on every student graduating from Lemont Township High School. "For 23 years I've gotten every student who went thru the school," says Galati, who has been chairman of the English department at the high school "since 1957 or 1958, the years go together so quickly."
Raised on the north side of Chicago, Galati came to Lemont for his first job after college. He stayed because he likes the town. "Lemont has been a good place to teach," he says. "The children are so often such wonderful people, and so are the parents. The children respect you and look up to you, and that doesn't happen elsewhere."
The lines turn up from Galati's eyes from all the years of smiles, and he adds, "I hope you don't write this down word for word. So often conversational English is not as polished as it should be."
According to Galati, "The reason our children are good in Lemont is not because they're forced into it. They're good because they feel they're loved, and cared for genuinely as human beings. I sometimes suspect the problems in the schools of some areas are caused because there aren't enough people who are getting through to the students that they are cared about.
"What normally happens is that a child misbehaves in a classroom, and the teacher has some negative responses toward the action and often toward the student," Galati continues. "The message the response conveys is exactly the opposite from what a teacher wants to convey.
"Most punishment reinforces the bad behavior. It makes the student feel rejected and unwanted. The only way I've found that students permanently change is if they have the feeling of being cared for.
"The last thing you want to do is fall into the trap that the negative student is setting up for you. If you do, he'll play out his role as rebel, and you'll play out your role as authoritarian, and you'll both be miserable.
"You [the teacher] must show that you are in charge," says Galati, "and you must have firmness, but you can have that firmness with extreme quietness.
"Punishment doesn't change behavior. It may repress it, but it will come out later. There's no way you can permanently suppress obnoxious behavior.
"When I was a young teacher, I didn't do this. I punished the students, but most of the time I'd be at my wit's end trying to control a class, including having a hyperactive student hold a chair out at arms length.
"But does this change behavior? Certainly not. It's the same students being punished weekly. People misbehave because they're feeling bad about themselves for some reason. All obnoxious behavior grows out of the need to be loved, and it is the very thing that drives love away.
"Eventually, if a teacher is lucky, he stumbles on the realization that the way to change behavior is to love the students, but as an early teacher I really didn't know how to love others. Maybe when you're young, you're so wrapped up in yourself that you can't reach out to others.
"You really have to care for the kids. It's not a strategy; it's an attitude. If you do everything right but don't like the kids, they'll detect it, and your plan will fail."
In light of the planned cuts in the elementary school budget and the recent defeat of a referendum to increase the taxes to prevent the budget cuts, Galati says, "Lemont in the past has always met its obligation to education fairly well. What people overlook when they vote down a referendum like we had is that we can't isolate ourselves from each other.
"If our schools are turning out a more poorly educated child, we're all hurt by that. If my neighbor is an ignorant man, that affects me because he's harder to live next to. If the man I work with in a factory is ignorant, that affects me. Everything that affects the capability of another human affects me. Our society today needs people with a strong sense of values and a strong sense of discipline, and the schools play a significant part in those aspects."
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