We usually think that, the busier a work shift, the more quickly it seems to pass. Not so with a class of 15 ten-year-olds. I am running a summer camp this week for 4th and 5th graders on speech and presentation skills, and it is a challenge, to say the least. As with almost every class I have taught, there are an array of personalities. There is always the shy kid, the mature kid, the comedian, the helper, the worker, and, inevitably, THAT kid. THAT kid is the one who talks over my directions, the one whose voice is the most piercing, and the one who will ignore me when I directly speak to him. It is usually a “him”. This is the kid who will hardly acknowledge my existence while disrupting the entire atmosphere, but who will also vie for my attention if I am concentrating on other students.
I have started to conclude that these kids are the reason I am sent to any class. I believe we each have an assignment or role to play, and I am an encourager. I strive to make people feel heard and validate their best efforts. I like to show my students all the potential they may not see in themselves, and I suspect that I end up with THAT kid in my classes because he (or she) needs encouragement – that THAT kid teaches me my real priority. He seems like the child who knows he has capabilities but wants to know whether I see that there is more to him than that. My best effort as an educator is to assure my students of their worth, and sometimes the toughest kids need the most reassurance and unconditional acceptance.
My latest THAT kid is also one of my brightest and most talented, but the shy students often surprise me, as well. If anything, teaching has taught me to take stock in little victories and tiny triumphs as I have re-calibrated my standards in the last year of teaching in different classrooms. I used to think that a student’s perfect grade was my goal because it would show that I was a good teacher, but I am now glad that I rarely meet perfection in the classroom. (After all, what would I be doing there?)
Instead of perfection, I look for progress, and I got to witness one of those miracles during this summer camp involved the most timid student in my class. For the first few days, this little girl would cycle through to give a speech with her eyes directed at the floor, reading her one-sentence speech off her paper in a voice I could not even hear. She looked like she wanted to cry, and I did not really know how I could help this girl. I thought that I should invest much more in THAT kid and others who clearly had potential, but in that I almost missed the miracle. After three days of smiling at her and giving my full attention while the class around us was going bananas, that tiny girl looked up at me as she said her sentence, and I could make out a few of the words she was saying. She even smiled once. I hope it was because she felt like I believed in her. A moment like that melts away the dross of hierarchies or potential and possibility and shows me that we all have equally valuable roles to play in life. Don’t miss the miracle, because the biggest blessings can come through the softest voices.