Every once in a while something spectacular happens that keeps me going. One of those things happened last Friday. It is hard to cling to the positive things sometimes when working in an urban school like mine. This incident answers all the questions about why I continue to teach in this type of school and community.
Trust is the hardest thing to gain when working with at-risk kids in low SES situations. They have seen so many teachers and principals come and go in their short lives. The school board changes things every couple years, fires entire faculties, and dismisses teachers while they can, before tenure takes effect. My students come from broken families due to drugs and crime, often with one or both parents in jail during some part of their lives. I have several students who have lost a family member or close friend to gun violence. My students do not trust anyone to stay in their lives for long. When I missed school to attend my state art ed conference I returned to every other student telling me they thought I quit. They started to ask me if I was coming back next year in February and I started telling them YES...I do not plan to go anywhere. Many students and especially my 5th grade class have started to trust me a little bit.
On Wednesday I returned from the NAEA Convention in San Diego and again heard from many students that they thought I had quit (even though I had told them where I was going and when I would be back). My 5th graders came to art excited that I was back. We are working on a wonderful lesson that I developed and will blog about soon. Each student is making a large poster of one positive character word in the style of 60's concert posters. One student mentioned a couple times that she thought hers was ugly. I told her it wasn't and that she needed to believe in herself. I really couldn't give her much attention because I was busy dealing with 2 students who had verbally and physically bullied one another. The girl became mouthy and mean as we came closer to the end of the class period. I told her I would speak with her the next day during their art class. Thursday during their class she started up right a way, following me around the room, whining and begging to start over. Every time I told her that the work was good, she would argue back that it was horrible. After everyone was working I finally was able to get to her one-on-one. I told her with complete honesty that I would not lie to her, that her work was good so far and that if I thought it wasn't good I would say so and have her start over. I persuaded her to finish coloring in the next letter, take a look at the progress and if she was still not happy with it then I would let her start over. At the end of class she brought it up to me and it was awesome. I told her so. She was grinning ear to ear.
Friday morning that girl came to see me. She stood strong in front of me and said, "Ms. Burton, I just wanted to come and thank you." I had no idea for what she was thanking me. The daily struggles take over so much, I had forgotten all about her success from the day before. So I asked, "Thanking me for what?" She looked me right in the eye and said, "Thank you for believing in me yesterday. You really believed my work was good and you helped me see that it was good so I could finish it." I had to catch my breath and keep a tear from falling. I responded, "You can do anything you set your mind to and anything you work hard for. You just need to believe in yourself too, and you're welcome." She bounced away down the hall and I let the tear fall as I closed my classroom door.