Fame More Than Anything

Whatever it took—this was Zach’s modus. He wanted fame more than anything, even if it edged on notoriety. And fame is hard to achieve in middle school if you aren’t athletic or rich or popular or smart or funny. But this didn’t stop Zach from trying.

“Sorry, Mrs. Swartz,” he’d say as he walked late into my class.

He’d clear his throat to be sure his voice reached the far corners of my just-settled class.

“I got called to the principal’s office again. This time for a consultation about how to increase school spirit.”

One day the superintendent dropped by my class unannounced. We were in a writing workshop, and I continued to conference with a student as the superintendent walked the aisles observing student work, his eyes alert and hands clasped behind his back.

Lucky me, it was a picture-perfect class. Students were absorbed in research and drafting and editing. And then as the superintendent neared Zach’s desk, I saw Zach straighten his back and clear his throat.

None of us on the faculty or staff ever addressed the superintendent without the title of doctor. And certainly, no student ever dared.

Except for Zach.

“Hi, there, Jake!” he said, skipping the title, not bothering with the proper name, and landing directly on the nickname.

It didn’t take the superintendent long to leave the room.

Zach had just demonstrated once again what repeated studies show, that students want to be associated with fame. More than financial success or achievement or a sense of community, they want people to give them attention and know their names.

They want this so much that if nothing else works, they turn to trouble, an easy and cheap way to get attention, a kind of faux form of fame.

There’s no sense in fighting this. Attention seekers win every time. But teachers who work proactively to draw out the essence of each student and make it visible to others, reduce their need for notoriety. What these teachers offer, instead, is life-giving ways to be known.

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