Long Story Short: A lack of impression makes an impression

Six weeks into my new teaching gig, I’ll openly admit that I didn’t notice her when she walked in my classroom Thursday morning.

In the way Lafayette’s block schedule is situated, individual high school classes meet every other day. Which means, every other week, I only see half of my students twice. With the recent holidays, I hadn’t seen this student’s class but three times in the last two weeks.

On Thursday, they were taking a test. When she finished, she didn’t raise her hand for me to come by and pick up her test. She, like several other students, just laid her head on her desk waiting for the rest of the students to finish.

I walked around the room, collected a few tests and then went to the front to observe.

That’s when I looked at her.

She wasn’t doing anything wrong.

I just happened to notice her as I surveyed the classroom.

When I got to her face, I stopped. And I had the same scary thought that I’ve had at least one other time in the past two weeks: “I don’t remember ever seeing that face before.”

She isn’t a squeaky wheel or a shining star. She hasn’t exhausted my energies and coping mechanisms. She hasn’t startled me with some stroke of brilliance. She hasn’t made me laugh. Her mother hasn’t called. She hasn’t told me about the books she loves to read or the late hours she works at the grocery store.

Sadly, in the hubbub of my trying to learn the names of more than 180 students, Thursday morning was the first time I remember actually focusing on her.

I stood there and felt ashamed.

I was her teacher. I should be her mentor. I should know something about her.

But I didn’t.

I didn’t even know her name.

While trying to find my way to the surface in the overwhelming tidal wave of forms to fill out, papers to grade and lessons to prepare, I had missed that one.

Clearly, now that her lack of impression has made an impression on me, I’ll do what I can to get to know her. I believe there’s a reason she caught my eye.

But in the big picture of being a teacher, that isn’t what troubles me. As I stood in front of her class, I knew that she wasn’t the only one I had missed.

Don’t get me wrong. I know different students connect with different teachers. Even so, I believe it’s a teacher’s responsibility to do what he or she can to lay the groundwork for a relationship.

Thankfully, that part comes easy with many students. And then there are those students who — in spite of their militant ignorance — challenge a teacher’s natural instinct to break down that wall and rekindle some warmth where a heart used to be.

And then, there are the rest of them.

The ones like the girl I saw Thursday.

They don’t win the essay contests. They don’t make the all-star softball team. They don’t get elected to the spring formal court. They probably don’t even go to the dance.

She and her like most likely wouldn’t fit any criteria for special services at school. No one in particular is looking out for them.

Even in the fray of today’s public school, she and so many other countless non-squeaky wheels in countless classrooms in countless schools across the country are not getting left behind.

But.

She certainly is not getting the attention she deserves.

(E-mail Jan at jan@janrisher.com or leave a comment here about this column.)
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