Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sub Notes: Heroes Come In Small Packages Too

It occurs to me that it’s so much more fun to write about bad teenagers than good ones. It’s not fun, for example, to tell you that there are kids out there—lots of them, as a matter of fact—who are much better human beings than I am.

I have witnessed girls intervening on behalf of children who were being bullied, and I am always awed. Once when I was in high school, I overheard a girl tell a boy he was ugly. I assumed they were friends and that she was teasing him, but it quickly became clear that they weren’t, and she wasn’t. It was nothing more than meanness. I clearly remember all of the horrified retorts that crossed my mind, but in the end, I’m ashamed to say that I stayed out of it. So I am more than a little respectful of these little girls—and there are quite a few of them—who don’t put up with any nonsense, even from friends and acquaintances.

One of them even came to my defense recently when I encountered an unruly student. When he got lippy with me, the girl next to him fixed him with a withering look and ordered him to “stop being ignorant.”

Once when I was calling roll, I ran into a particularly difficult name to pronounce. But when I asked the boy to pronounce it for me, he refused, so I kept going. When I’d finished, the boy’s friend spoke up. “My friend’s name is really cool. Want to hear how he pronounces it?” After urging his friend several times, he said it for me, and then he grinned proudly. “Isn’t that cool?” When I agreed, it had double meaning. I still haven’t mastered tact, and these children were sixth graders.

In fact, every now and then, there’s a student I suspect is older than I am on the inside. It’s almost an eerie feeling because I think I am pretty old. I once had to go to a strange building on a large campus. One high school boy apparently knew his teacher’s schedule, and he knew the building was confusing and hard to find. “Do you know where you go next, Ma’am?” He asked. “Here, I’ll show you.” And he walked me there. Every one of those things is a weird response for a high school kid—the concern, the willingness to be seen with a strange middle-aged teacher. And this was no loser kid.

Sometimes I wonder what happens to these children. I imagine they grow up to run governments and armies and rescue people and save the world.

I hope so. Because the world needs them.

The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson


  1. Actually, Tammy, they grow up to be Democrats (chuckle)

  2. I recognize leadership ability in children in my class. I can tell you by age five who will make a difference in the world. It is heartwarming to hear a littel girl sweetly say, "I have listened long enough to be polite, now please go play."

    A boy told one little bothersome girl,"You can be the red power ranger (but she kept yapping). "Ok, you can be the blue..." He went through every color and she kept annoying him, so he finally said, " I know, be the white one, it's silent."

    Both were kinder, gentler ways to say, SHUT UP!

  3. I recently took a group of students to a writing festival. One kid did not bring a lunch, and did not tell me until we were on the bus, hurtling down the street. So I told him I would get him a few things from the vending machine...like peanut butter and crackers.

    "I'm allergic to peanut butter," he replied.

    Okay, some cheese and crackers. (I wanted to get him something with protein in it.)

    "I don't like cheese and crackers, " he snapped back.

    Another student on the bus with us said, "Then you're obviously not very hungry, cause if you WERE, you'd eat whatever you're lucky enough to get."

    Tammy, I think your story would make a wonderful essay. Doesn't NYMB have a teacher anthology? (The last three sentences are a wonderful--and so true--ending.)

  4. When I used to teach the at-risk students six hours a day, one section started a discussion about a recent school shooting in the news.

    "You never have to worry about that happening to you, Mrs. Thevictorian. Because the minute that dude comes through the door, we will be ALL OVER HIM! We will TAKE HIM OUT!"

    Some of their priorities were in order, it seems. Just not the book-learnin' kind.

  5. So much attention is generated by the "problem" kids that the ones who quietly do the right thing often get lost in the shuffle.

    Thanks for reminding us about them in this lovely post, Tammy!

    Critter Alley

  6. What a great post, it warms my heart.


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