The blond, bright-voiced teacher was recalling her experiences with a young black student who attended her elementary school class this past year. He was an intelligent child, she said, but he didn't always do his homework. The teacher had worked with him diligently, pressing him to work harder. Then, she recalled, one day she looked at his test scores from the Iowa Basic Skills Test and found he had scored poorly.
"But he did very well in class all year long," the teacher said, her voice filled with bewilderment and self-doubt. "I just feel like there was something I didn't do."
The teacher told her story to 27 other Montgomery school employes who were enrolled in "The Black Experience and Culture," a course all county school personnel are required to take.
The course examines the history, sociology and psychology of black people. The "students" take multiple choice tests in which the words [WORD ILLEGIBLE] from black slang - analogous to the situation where black children take standardized tests, which many feel are presented in language geared for middle-class white children.
Those taking the course also examine African art and learn about its relations to lifestyles in Africa. They read African history and have listened to Roosevelt Johnson, a professor of education at the University of the District of Columbia, describe the socialization of the black child.
"Black Experience and Culture" was begun after a citizen advisory commission on minority relations recommended that such a class be required for employes who work with, teach or teach about black people.
Two years ago, when Montgomery County school officials announced that all school personnel would be required to take a course in black culture, some employs refused. But the reactions have been more favorable recently, now that almost a third of the 6,000 employes have completed the course.
"When people first come in to the course, they're angry because the course is mandated," said Judy Docca, a school administrator who helped set up and teach the course. "Then when we start talking about assignments, they get excited. No one says this course is boring."
"I thought I would come in here feeling defensive," said Falls Meade teacher Debbie Wagoner last week after class. "I thought I wouldn't be able to say anything because I'd be jumped on, but it isn't that way at all. People discuss things and when they disagree, they disagree with your statement, not with you."
"I wanted to take the course because I didn't have this background," said Broad Acres Elementary teacher Sylvia Miller, who is black. "I don't think I could instruct this class. It would be too emotional for me."
There are 1,500 pages of reading required in the course which includes 45 hours of class time. In summer the class meets daily for three weeks. In winter students have 15 weekly classes. Attendance is taken, and anyone who misses more than two sessions does not receive credit for the course.
Supporting services employes are given time off from their jobs to take the course. Classroom employes receive three hours of credit toward required inservice training programs or educational training necessary to reach the master's degree level in the school system pay scale.
A special assessment team, which evaluated the course over the past year, told the school board earlier this week that teachers also should get time off from work to take the course. The team, composed of school administrators, teachers union officials and a community representative, said substitute teachers might take the places of the teachers during the class time.
"We basically made the commitment that the course is a good course and should be kept," said Henry Heller, a team member and head of the Montgomery County Educators Association. "But you cannot compel a teacher to work another four hours after they've put in a seven and a half hour duty day."
Alumni of the course include Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo, associate superintendents Edward Andrews and Harry Pitt and board President Elizabeth Spencer.
Docca taught both Spencer and Bernardo. "He was really great," she said about Bernardo. "He was a model student. He missed one session, but he asked me for his homework assignment two weeks ahead of time. He was very conscientious and very serious."
Alice Johnson, a black counselor at Broome Middle School, and Thorn Zollner, a white biology teacher at Gaithersburgh High, taught the course in the mornings for the past three weeks. Those who took the Johnson-Zollner course attributed much of its success to the teaching team. "Alice is so even-keeled and handles everything so well," said Miller.
Some participants have told the teachers they feel the reading assignments are too heavy. "The reading must be done," Johnson said in a firm gentle voice.
"It's very important to do the reading. If you're interested, you can find the time to do it," said Zollner who added that he is pleased with the class.
"This school system has taken a step very few school systems ever take," Dr. Charles Martin, the community representative who headed the assessment group, told the school board this week. ". . . Frankly I don't care what school employes think. As school employes have a responsibility to remain competent or somehow get competent at (working with black youngsters). They must be able to look at what these youngsters bring into the classroom."