This is not that kind of story

Photo by charbeck10

Some of the really big moments for me this past weekend at Unplugd was the informal storytelling that happened in those magic moments by candlelight or firelight with loons calling from the lake and mosquitoes sucking the blood out of my ankles. Most of those moments can’t really be archived (nor should they). One conversation however, led me to tell this story that I never planned on telling. I felt like the story I told this weekend had to be one of personal triumph. It had to be some story about how something I was passionate about was confirmed by some success I had in the classroom. Instead I told this story after a conversation with one of my fellow campers (who is deeply awesome).

I wrote this as a letter, but I’ve left out the name of the student I wrote it for:

Dear ______,

I’ve been teaching for eight years now and each year I teach around 160 kids. So if you multiply the number of kids by the number of years you get like… a lot. And out of all those kids, there are always a few kids who stick with you. Sometimes they’re kids who you really had a big connection with. Or the ones who made you laugh or the ones who had real breakthroughs in your class and you feel like you contributed to that in some way. You remember them because they affirmed for you all the things you want to believe about yourself as a teacher and as a person.

And then there are the kids like you, who I remember because when you walked in the room I felt like I had nothing to offer you. I felt like I brought my A game everyday I would agonize over what to do with you so much that people started to wonder if I had any other students in my class.

You were angry and everything I did seemed to make you angrier. I’d think I was finally getting through to you and then you would disappear for a week and when you came back you looked sick and and tired and I knew that you had stuff going on in your life that was so much bigger than anything we were doing in our class.

And so all I could do was give you books. Because when I gave you a book you’d read it and you told me that you liked them because they were so real. And so I just kept feeding you books. And I wish this turned into a story where the books I gave you opened up a new world and the encouragement I gave you made you see your potential and you got your credit and lived happily ever after.

But this isn’t one of those stories. They’re never going to make a movie about this. because this isn’t a teacher story; this is a student story. It’s about you, not me.

You taught me to let go of the need to make it about me.

So thanks. I hope you liked the books.

-Ms B.

And yeah, I kind of cried when I told the story and I’ll probably always kind of cry when I tell the story.

10 thoughts on “This is not that kind of story

  1. When we live in a world where so many movies or books find happier endings, I keep finding reminders in my UnPlug’d experience of “Why Imperfection Matters”.

    I loved hearing this story told from the heart, unrehearsed, without notes. It will stay with me…

  2. I am so glad you shared that story with us. The version you shared over the weekend was (fortunately for us) much more elaborate and moved me to tears. I think what I appreciated about the sharing also was the way in which you let your guard down and let us in. We shared the experience with you in all the pain and hope that it evoked. I get a lump in my throat even now. I think of the young boy I taught in grade 3 who threw chairs out of the window, lit the class on fire, … and who, at the end of the year gave me the SF patch off his baseball cap. We all have stories like that but yours reminded me that it is not about us/me.

    We need to find more opportunities to share our personal narratives in trusting circles.

  3. Danika, thank you for being vulnerable with us. I think the stories we share that do not have a happy ending help us learn and grow together through the personal connections we can make with you. I, too, thought of my Matthew who did not like me at first. In fact, he came at me with a screwdriver and wanted to hurt me. But I came to understand that he really didn’t have anyone who he felt loved him. And one of the last things he said to me was… Mrs. Power, you always gave me a safe place that I could trust. He made me crazy. He really did. But I learned the most about teaching from my Matthew. So Danika, thank you for reminding me how much he meant to me.

  4. I am grateful to have been there the first time you told your story at breakfast. We can all learn from the lesson. Thank-you for so honestly and bravely sharing.

  5. Thanks for your honest reflection. Too often we share our ‘success’ stories and not the stories that have us pondering what more could I have done.
    I do want to say that this really was a success story. Not only did you provided a safe place for this student but he read too! That’s success to me!

    I’m entering my 2oth year of teaching and one thing I learned is we never really know what kind of impact we had on each of our learners. My husband and I often run into our former students who have ‘grown up’. There comments are always reflective. it’s obvious we impacted each of our students even when we thought we hadn’t. Your hard work might not have produced the results you had anticipated. Educators plant seeds. We aren’t always around for the growing. Each plant grows and flourishes at a different rate. Sometimes we can see that growth in our school year, sometimes it’s a lot later.
    Please know that what you do and say each day
    matters.
    @techieang

  6. Wow! Thank you so much for all your kind words, folks. It certainly helps for me to know that I’m not alone in this experience. I really appreciate your taking the time to read and share your stories with me too.

  7. I’m not an educator or and expert in the field but I have as a student I have spent a great deal of time dealing with all different kinds of teachers and this blog post really moved me. I’ve never been one to cause trouble and always had an incentive to learn but I have always payed very close attention to how different teachers taught and how these teachers treated their students. I found that to have a teacher so invested in the children they teach and so eager to not only prove to the school board that their students can spit out good test scores but rather to teach what is important in a way that resonates. I’ve had a few teachers who made the learning about me rather than themselves and I feel incredibly lucky to have come across those educators and my experience with them will not be forgotten. I feel this particular student is incredibly fortunate to have had you as a teacher and if more people cared for them this way, it would make a world of difference.
    Reading this really stuck with me and I just had to tell you how incredible I think this experience is. I hope you keep teaching for many more years!

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  9. Danika

    Thank you for these words:

    “But this isn’t one of those stories. They’re never going to make a movie about this. because this isn’t a teacher story; this is a student story. It’s about you, not me.

    You taught me to let go of the need to make it about me.”

    Thank you for showing your passion for your students.

  10. Thank you, Danika, for this very personal reflection. It’s real and honest, qualities not always easy to keep forefront in blogs, the classroom or in student-teacher interactions. We so often internalise what we do and how we feel about our classes and which things we create will have the most effect. It’s easy to forget that the students have the majority of the experience.