This I Believe

Jeanmarie - Rochester, New York
Entered on August 1, 2007

It is September, the first day of school. I stand in front of a new class of eleventh graders. I start talking racecar speed, my coffee and my enthusiasm guiding my tongue. This year most of my students are boys who have been scheduled together because they like math, science and technology. At the moment, they think they want to become architects, engineers, auto mechanics, electricians and the like. This means, as a general rule, they don’t much care for English, the subject I teach. However, this is not the first time I’ve encountered a class who, as a whole, didn’t like English.

Early in my teaching career, I had a ninth period class, a period viewed by both students and teachers alike as a punishment because it occured after 90% of the school had already been dismissed for the day. They came to me because they had to, not because they had an intrinsic desire to learn. It is because of one student in this class that I believe through teaching, I can make a lasting impression.

I have been a high school teacher for about ten years. Many students have inspired my practice, influenced my rapid-fire style and left their marks on me. I keep assigning books to read, essays to write and movies to produce because I know the effect these can have on students. However, I know too that the impression left on students may evolve out of something even more intangible than learning.

In this ninth period class, I had a student named Ashleigh. She was very smart, but also a terror in the classroom. She demanded attention. She made classroom management a challenge even to teachers with years more experience than I had. I can still hear her brassy voice calling out with an answer or a question or notice me. And despite this, I liked her.

She had very little support at home, so when we had study hall together in the cafeteria (a very unstudious room), I would make her sit with me. I would attempt to get her to complete her assignments and cajole her to read, insisting that I selected the books because I liked them and if she would just read them, she would like them too.

We would eat a breakfast of bagels and cream cheese and sometime we would just sit and talk, not about her life or anything profound, but about music and The Simpsons and which flavor of bagel was best and our classes.

When she didn’t return the following year, I felt the slight pang of loss. She had moved across the country, to California to live with her older sister, a marine, who had gotten her life together and was prepared to help her baby sister do the same.

Several years later, Ashleigh sent me an email to tell me that she had graduated from high school through a specialized evening program and that she had a job (in a daycare) and that sometimes a teacher doesn’t realize the impact she has had.

Yes, I believe that in this job I can leave a lasting impression. I believe that words and language are powerful tools. I believe I can inspire and help create excellence. And though I stand here in front of these new eleventh graders with a daunting task at hand. I know that for at least one, this class and I will forever be forged in his memory. And he in mine.