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