It is a rare occasion when a student does or says something to the teacher’s knowledge that validates that teacher’s existence. I’m not the only teacher who feels this way, so when those moments do happen, we like to gather all of our little teacher friends around and share the experience. It’s kind of like that whole “clap so the fairy doesn’t die” trick they used in Peter Pan. Hokey, yes, but those moments keep us going, keep us believing.
If I were to do the math (always a dangerous endeavor), I think I would be averaging about 1 of these experiences/moments/epiphanies a year. Additionally, if I were to poll the entire WHS staff, I’d be willing to bet that’s the norm for most of the teachers in the building. Again, it’s a rarity, so I’m tickled to be announcing that I had one today.
I must say, this one really came out of nowhere. Guirgie, the nickname I have bestowed upon the tall, lanky basketball player who sits front row in my 11 Honors class, has been known to drop some – shall we call them – nuggets of wisdom from time to time, but mostly he is content to sit quietly or throw in the occasional affirmation to a point he feels was solidly made by a peer. “Yeah, I agree.”
Today, that changed, and I mean completely. No, literally, this kid got so excited about the novel we’re reading in class, The Awakening, I at first thought it was a joke.
“Twelve through sixteen, Mrs. Dietrich, these were my chapters!” Guirgie exclaimed, and then, no longer able to contain the sheer joy of finally being able to openly discuss this book, he got out of his seat and proceeded to stand next to me in front of the class. He then began to “break it down” for us what exactly was happening between Edna and Robert’s characters. I think at one point I was cast as Edna while he played the role of Robert, something that made me feel quite awkward at first, but I didn’t have to worry; Guirgie ended up playing both roles in his excitement.
The other kids just watched in amazement, a mixture of laughter and astonishment leaving their slacked jaws from time to time. I must have mirrored those expressions. I was unable to move from my spot. I stood transfixed as Guirgie emitted the most intense thoughts and feelings I have ever seen or heard a student experience in regards to a work of fiction. This kid, this basketball-playing, admitted-non-reader kid managed in those brief and electric moments to make it all come rushing back to me: THIS IS WHY I TEACH.
I have a student who is in my last class of the day, Acting, and is also in Guirgie’s 11 Honor’s English class. As we got settled in for the lesson to begin, I couldn’t help but bring up to her my shock over what had transpired earlier in the day. “You changed that kid. I saw it on your face; you know you did,” she said.
I did, even if it was just in that moment, even if Guirgie never reads another novel in his life – I impacted a student’s life in a positive way for one shining, brilliant moment. So, I did what any other teacher would do with that feeling: I scooped it up, and as I walked out to my car at 3:30, I used it to shield myself from the rain and the cold and the gray.