Last year a student walked into my Literature 12 class three weeks into the course. She had transferred from another school, and she sat through the first class without saying a word. Later when I spoke to a counsellor about her, a sad story emerged. This particular student had not been in a regular classroom for over three years. She had spent grades 9, 10, and 11 in the alternate program at her previous school, and before that spent a significant amount of her middle school time on a bench in front of the principal's office. Chances of graduation were slim to none...yet here she was sitting in my class. For the next three weeks she came to class regularly but said nothing and did not participate in any way. Those who are familiar with my classroom know it is high action and high participation but this student sat stoically through everything with hardly a change of expression. She was a difficult student to teach. While she wasn't disruptive, she gave me nothing back. Like most teachers, I certainly appreciate the positive responses from students that keep my energy running, but for the life of me I could not get any response from this girl. If this was really just about getting 4 credits towards graduation, couldn't she get it in a different course? This kid obviously didn't care about school.
A few more weeks went by, and then out of the blue she brought me a picture, (the original of the photocopy you see above). At our graduation ceremonies we put baby pictures beside the graduation pictures of our grads and this student had found one and brought it in. The picture shocked me. It shocked me so much that I photocopied it so I wouldn't forget.
I didn't want to forget that this student obviously wanted to graduate. Despite her lack of emotion, she did have a purpose for being in our school. She cared enough to bring in her picture for the awards ceremony at the end of the year. This also reminded me that I was teaching a student that was willing to come to a new school after three years and struggle through a regular classroom block schedule and a new group of peers.
I didn't want to forget that she was once a baby. She was a child with dreams, and hopes, and a future. What did the world look like for that child when she smiled for the camera in that picture? What were her parents' hopes for her? As high school teachers I think it is more difficult for us to remember this as many of our kids look like adults. I didn't want to forget the hope and inspiration I get from working with children.
I didn't want to forget that it didn't matter where she came from, or how she got there. The only thing that mattered was that she was in my school, and in my classroom now and my truest obligation as a teacher was to help her succeed in any way possible.
I didn't want to forget that it is easy to teach the kids who give me clear indicators of how much they are enjoying my course. The reality is however, that students who don't appear as if they want to be there might still be giving me all that they can at the time.
Finally, I didn't want to forget that every single student I teach was once a baby starting life with a future full of possibilities. Terrible things happen to some of them along the way, but I have an obligation to view every student as that child with a whole world of promise and hope in front of them. Who am I to decide who deserves to be in my classroom or not? I will not forget that every student wants to succeed, every child should get the benefit of the doubt, and every student deserves my best.