In the first period of the day in my first year of teaching, I found my first hard student. Her name was Kami. Kami could well be a grandma by now, and I don’t know if her memories include a first-year teacher who didn’t know what she was doing. But if she does remember me, I doubt if it’s with much fondness. And I’m quite certain that I learned more being her teacher than she learned being my student. Here’s what I did wrong with Kami:
- I let her set the emotional agenda. Kami’s good days became my good days, and too often her bad days became mine. When students trooped into my room at the starting bell, I read her face like I watched the weather forecaster each morning to know if there would be sun or storm. Like the wind comes from the west, the climate in my room came from Kami, not me.
- I didn’t reach out to her parents. I should have called them, or, even better invited them in. And I should have said to them, “Tell me about Kami. What do you see as her strengths? How could I work with you to help Kami develop?” And when we did meet at parent-teacher conferences, I spent too much time talking and not enough time listening.
- I thought too much about Kami. She stayed in my mind when I served dinner to my children. She showed up in my nightmares. Even Christmas morning, thoughts about her plagued me. The more I worried the more I villainized her and the more I exhausted myself.
- I was stingy. I parsed out my smiles to her and rarely complimented her. I felt she had to earn my trust before I sent any approval her way. It’s hard to improve under a thumb, but I kept mine on her. I starved my relationship with her instead of feeding it.
I still don’t understand why, but on the last day of school that year, Kami plunked a gift on my desk. Then, without a word, she turned heel and walked away. Five steps later, she turned back and patted my shoulder, like a parent giving hope to an errant child. Still without a word, she left the classroom. I haven’t forgotten Kami, but in some ways I hope she’s forgotten me.