As a girl I read Helen Keller’s story. I was horrified by it on some level – the blind, deaf and mute child shut off from all real contact with her world, living an almost feral existence – but so inspired by Anne Sullivan. Not inspired to follow in her footsteps mind you – I never even considered it. That was too far above my abilities. I just thought she was the most amazing woman I’d ever read about. She had such patience and insight.
As a teacher I still don’t aspire to be Anne Sullivan which is a good thing because I just can’t reach students the way she reached Helen. I do try to inspire students to be intrigued and amazed by science and the world around them – that’s where my passion lies, but I struggle with making a difference in the lives of the kids who really need someone to do that.
Several weeks ago I told you about reaching out to one of my troubled students – a young lady who affected an “I don’t care” attitude, who had a short fuse and a rough manner, who put her friends ahead of everything and who was frequently led astray (or led others astray). She confessed that reading was hard for her and I told her she could stay after school on tutoring days and bring any of her home work to my room and I’d go through it with her. It didn’t have to be science.
She hasn’t come. She’s been in more trouble since then and was even suspended for a few days. She’s behind in my class and has over due assignments. She’s been kicked off choir and was on the bench (outside the office) again this past week for fighting (someone dissed a friend of hers).
I keep trying. I let her know I missed her when she’s out of school (for whatever reason). I tell her I care about her and want her to make good life decisions (but her dad’s in prison and her brother has been in trouble as well). I have Pretty Lady like fantasies of taking her shopping and bonding over a pedicure and taking her on a tour of a college campus that end up with her seeing the light and turning her life around. And I want to be there when she graduates high school.
We’ve been working on a big (bigger than I thought it would be) project on El Nino in my 8th grade classes – the kids have been researching El Nino’s impact on different areas (economics, weather, environment, and so forth) and creating a poster showing both global impacts and impacts here in the Midwest. It’s been a stretch for many of them – a lot of research, writing summaries, teasing out the impacts for our area which are frequently different from the global impacts (less snow, warmer temperatures for us), citing sources and adding illustrations. Several of the students have floundered and stumbled on one aspect or another.
Including this student. She missed several days of school, lost her work, forgot her iPad, spent time socializing rather than working. But on Friday she came to class, asked me to help her find some new articles (lost the other ones she’d been working on), and told me she was back on her ADD medicine. She thanked me for printing articles and sat down and wrote a summary of them. We work on various “Lifelines” at our school and manners was one of this month’s lifelines so I quickly wrote up a ticket for her (it goes in a bucket for a drawing) and passed it to her at the end of class. “Manners!” she said. “If I win, I’ll die laughing!” “You won’t be the only one.” I said. “But go ahead – show them!” She grinned at me. “I will.” she said.
Do I think she’ll make only good choices from now on? No. She has a lot going against her. But she also has several teachers and counselors pulling for her and we won’t give up easily.