“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
- E.E. Cummings
Yesterday, something happened that I cannot stop thinking about.
I wound up being at the same school for the final student of the month award ceremony. Since October, I’d attended every single one, even though I had thought March would be my last one. Then April. The difference for May is that I'd be handing out awards for 6th-grade ELA (English Language Arts) instead of 7th and 8th-grade Social Studies.
The ELA teacher was out for two weeks because of illness, and I covered her classes nearly every single day. It was eye opening for me. I had fun coming up with lessons and hanging the students’ work on the walls. Since I love writing, it’s not a stretch to consider being an ELA teacher. But I hadn’t taught 6th-graders much, so it was an adjustment getting use to their level of maturity. And they had to adjust to me as their teacher instead of just a babysitter. After about 5 days, I felt like I’d always been with them.
It was kind of cool that several of the students were younger siblings of the students I’d just taught as an ETS (Extended Term Substitute).
For the ceremony, I e-mailed the teacher to find out whom to give the awards to. One student she picked made me pause.
I had her older brother when I was an ETS. He’s given up.
Her family's story is one of poverty and addiction.
Before this, I’d only noticed her when she was acting up, which was often.
These two weeks I’d taught her, she was nothing but lovely and hard working.
A few teachers handed out awards. Then we took a break for a speaker. Before we resumed the awards, another teacher came over to say this student was being dismissed.
I was disappointed. She was losing her moment.
“Wait,” I told her, and then picked up her certificate from the stage.
I held it in my hands. “Ms. ***** chose you to receive this award. But I want you to know, after working with you for these past two weeks, I’m not surprised she chose you. You’ve been a conscientious and hard-working student. You deserve this award.”
I handed her the certificate.
She stared at it. She looked up at me. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Then she put her arms around me. I hugged her back. She didn’t give me a quick hug. It was an embrace. Tears pricked my eyes.
Later, I found out she went to the office to meet her mother. She showed everyone her award as she beamed.
How many times had she sat in that auditorium, watching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students receive congratulations for their work in ELA, Science, Math, Social Studies, Art, Music, Spanish, and Physical Education? How many times did she think she’d never stand up there, shaking hands and high-fiving teachers while music played?
How many times did she think she wasn’t that kind of student? That kind of person?
How many people from her background go to college? How many achieve the kind of the success their parents couldn’t muster because of addiction?
I wanted her to know for the short time I got to spend with her that she’s worthy.
I hope she believes it.
Damn, it takes no time at all for these children possess me. I miss them already.