On Friday during my prep period I went down to the office to check my mail. On the bench outside the office sat one of my students. The bench is where kids sit when they’ve created a disruption or have had some trouble in class. I gave her the oh-oh what’s up look as I swung through and she grinned sheepishly and looked away. This young lady is doing ok in my class – yes, she’s late sometimes and she’s occasionally behind on her work but she’s engaged (and engaging – she has the best smile and sparkle in her eyes). But I see her standing out in the hall outside other classrooms from time to time and hear her name called in summons to the office.
When I came out of the office I was headed back to my classroom – I had things to grade, emails to return and positive phone calls to make to parents – but I paused and sat down next to my student. “So, what’s up?” I asked. She relayed the conflict that had sent her out of class and I listened and nodded.
“You’re doing well in my class,” I told her, “but I see you out in the hall a lot outside of Mr. So & So’s class.”
“I like science,” she replied. “Science and math are my favorite classes. But I have trouble with reading. I can’t get through it. I don’t like to read.”
I told her about the training I’d gone to during the summer to help me assist students with reading; an approach that helps readers get more out of the text, and invited her to bring whatever she was struggling with to my room after school on tutoring days. I’d help her get through it, I said.
“Can I bring social studies and English work?” she asked.
“Bring it all,” I said. And she smiled.
Will she come to tutoring next week? Maybe, maybe not. If she doesn’t I’ll remind her. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with work – grading, lesson plans, assignments, classroom management issues, new initiatives the administration has decided we need to undertake, cleaning up after labs, keeping abreast of new scientific discoveries and differentiating everything for students of widely varying abilities. My students are way too individual for me to ever think of them as numbers but sometimes there’s just so many of them that I do think of them as groups.
And some of those groups are challenging. There are many bright engaged students in our school, kids who are smart and active and caring. And there are students who are lost, belligerent, rude and destructive and who don’t seem to care about much of anything. They have a chip on their shoulder and their defenses up. They disrupt class, destroy property and aggravate their classmates. They can be hard to reach and sometimes I feel like I’m wasting my time trying.
Then I take a minute to sit with one and learn something about them – that they are living in a shelter, or with grandparents. That they’ve moved frequently and this is the fourth junior high school they’ve attended. That they haven’t seen one of their parents in months or years. That they love horses, or football or hunting and they are enthralled with the latest book in the series they’re reading. That they like to draw or sing or write poetry. That they need a little help and that maybe I’m the person they are reaching out to or maybe I’m the one to reach out to them.
My goal is to reach just one student. To make a difference in that person’s life. And I’m going to do it by reaching out to all of them, knowing that there will be students who turn away, walk past, or ignore the gesture. That’s ok if I can encourage, welcome or help at least one.