You Never Know

That's what it comes down to, in the end.  You do your best, and you think you can visualize what kind of an impact you're having on your students, but ultimately, you never know.  The students you'd written off as unreachable come back with smiling faces and glowing reports.  In my first year of teaching, I failed a student who consistently didn't turn in her work and appeared to not care one bit about her grade.  I hated failing her, but it had to be done out of fairness to the other students who had worked hard.  The next year, this girl went out of her way to thank me for teaching her so much valuable information.  I fought the urge to say, "Really?  You learned something?!"

Today as I walked toward the elevator, a girl jumped up from the bench she was sharing with three or four others. She spotted me all the way at the other end of the hall and came running: "Mrs. Lowe! Mrs. Lowe!"

Had she not been calling my name, I wouldn't have thought for a moment she was talking to me. She did decently in my class last year, but our personalities clashed; she was one of those people who cannot keep silent under any circumstances, who must think out loud in response to any question or even any statement, and -- I'll be honest here -- those people drive me nuts in a classroom situation.  It was hard to show her I genuinely liked her while curbing her chattering enough that she didn't distract the other students.  We parted on not-so-great terms, and this year whenever I passed her she looked away, sometimes even rolling her eyes, and responded to my greetings with flat monosyllables.

But here she came, bounding up eagerly to tell me how well she had done on her college placement exams.  "I don't even have to take English until the end of sophomore year!  All that SAT stuff just came right back to me.  It really helped."

I felt awkward, so taken aback I was (for once) at a loss for words.  "I'm glad," I said finally.  I'm so proud of you.  Thanks for telling me."

Here was someone who had either ignored me or treated me with contempt for a full year. Now I was her hero.  I know how this works -- I've repeated it to myself countless times -- but it never fails to surprise me: They don't see us as people. It's not personal; it just doesn't register, that teachers have feelings and are trying our best and are hurt, even if we try not to be, when our efforts are discounted.  I was an annoyance, and I became a commodity.  Hence, the radiant smile, the dramatic return of the prodigal who rushed to put a ring on my finger and shoes on my feet.

You never know.  It's why I hate and love this job.