I've been working in my classroom today preparing for next year. As I busied myself revising class documents, in walks a former student. This is no ordinary student.
Last year he was in my English 9 class as a junior--he struggled academically despite being a very bright kid. He had poor attendance and spent a lot of time in the principal's office. In my class he refused to participate in many class activities and had a tough time turning in assignments. However---he is intelligent. This is a kid who had a rough time growing up and this probably interfered with school. I think that a lot of people gave up on him. I worked my tail off trying to convince him to believe that he was smart and capable of passing English. Early in the year we wrote This I Believe essays--just like NPR's This I Believe podcasts--and he brought a scribbled, handwritten essay to class that blew me away. Yes it had lots of misspellings and grammatical errors---but it was packed with honesty and insight and used language that rolled off the paper like poetry. When I told him how much I loved his essay and that I thought he had a talent for writing (he truly does), he softened a bit...not much...but enough for him to do a little more work in my class. A few weeks after that he moved to Denver. It was very sudden, and I never had the chance to say good bye to him.
Today he stopped in my classroom to chat. I couldn't hold back a smile as he sauntered into the classroom sporting his numerous tatoos and wearing his usual tough-guy smile. We talked about the summer, how his school year had gone (he passed ALL of his classes and is on track to graduate this coming school year!!!!), the book, Night, that he read and enjoyed in his English class (in my head I was screaming with joy as he talked about how awesome the book was), and his new found hobby--boxing.
During our conversation he said, "So you comin' back to teach here next year?"
I told him I was, and he said with a smirk on his face, "You know--you were tough on us last year."
I laughed, "You mean, I expected a lot?"
"Yeah," he said with a chuckle.
I took that as a thank you. We continued our chat until his friends got done with summer school, and before he left I gave him a book, The Contender (a book about a kid who struggles but makes his way through life by boxing), and his journal from last year. I could tell he was suprised. He flipped through his journal and then shoved both books into his backpack.
I said, "Don't throw that book away--I think you'll like it."
"Nah--I'll read it" he replied with a smile. I thanked him for coming in and told him to have a great summer and an even better school year.
It's incidents like this that reaffirm my career choice. No matter how hard it may be, no matter how unvalued I may feel, I am helping kids--even if it's just a few. And beacuse of this, I will always remain involved with education.