Just before Christmas break, the school secretary called me during my planning period, asking if I had time to see a couple of students. After answering affirmatively, I puzzled over the call. Students usually just come to the classroom to see a teacher; they don’t go through the office first! Who could be on the way, and why did they ask the secretary to call me? I only had a minute to ponder the situation before two young ladies walked through my door. Both were students in my English class the year before, and both had left our school to attend the alternative school instead. I was surprised and delighted to see them on this unexpected visit.
“Katie” had been with me an entire school year. She had a tough exterior; her hair was dyed black, she wore heavy makeup, and her baggy pants usually had heavy chains hanging from them. She was quiet for the first few days, but I could tell she was both intelligent and more interested in class than she wanted me to believe. I didn’t pry, but I broached discussions with her each day. Gradually, she warmed up to me and began initiating conversations. While she was absent often, she always asked me about make up work and completed it.
I learned bits and pieces of Katie’s life from our conversations. She has a tough home life, and she’s been suicidal. She has to miss school for counseling because her parent works second shift. Several weeks into the school year, she broke down in tears as she explained to me she was going to miss class once a week for counseling because she felt I was the only teacher who wouldn’t penalize her for her absences. While she didn’t earn an A+ and several assignments went unfinished during the yeaar, Katie passed my class and the state test with no issues.
“Laura” came to my class near the middle of last school year, and she was only with me a few short weeks. She was returning to our school from a brief stay (due to discipline issues) in another district. Many teachers and all the students knew her, but I did not since I had been new to the district the previous year. She put on a display as she made a grand entrance to my classroom, but I ignored her bravado and treated her like any other student. She was absent from class, sometimes from school but often just in the office. While other teachers complained about her return, I never had any issues with her.
Laura’s presence was so infrequent that I might have forgotten about her, except for one major conversation. Laura arrived late one day after being held after class by another teacher for a “tough love” lecture on choices, grades, and graduation. I’m sure that teacher was trying to “scare” her into better behavior, but Laura was in tears. The only thing she took away from that conversation was that she was a lost cause, that she had no hope of graduating. My heart broke for her. And I told her so. I told her I cared and believed in her, and gave her five minutes to compose herself in the bathroom before joining the class.
They had just stopped by the office for paperwork and had timed it when I would be available.
They both hugged me and thanked me for believing in them and treating them with respect. I was speechless. We were all teary-eyed. They shared the positives in their lives; they both started working part-time and had made progress at the alternative school. While the visit lasted just moments, the emotions still make me tear up writing this.
I’m not proclaiming to have the magic formula to reach every student. In fact, I know there are students every year I am not reaching and influencing the way I’d like. But for these two young ladies, I left an impression. Treating them differently than they expected by treating them with kindness and respect had a positive impact on their lives. My hope is that every student, every Katie and Laura, finds that one caring adult who can make the difference. You never know who you might be influencing without even knowing you’re doing it! Find that student in need, and be the one person who makes a difference!