Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who's the Boss?

Having to reroute my usual trip to work one recent morning meant an entirely new bus route, with new lines and stops. On top of the usual minor trepidation when trying a new route, I was particularly exhausted that morning and looked every bit of it: large cup of lousy bodega coffee, sneakers with a skirt, no makeup, bags under my eyes. That kind of thing.

Imagine my initial dismay when I plopped down on a seat on the bus, only to hear a voice cry, “MISS EYRE!”

It was a former student of mine, one I’ll call Mercedes for the purposes of our discussion. Mercedes was one of my favorite students (don’t pretend you don’t have any!). She was not an especially “good student”—she was frank about her distaste for homework and reading, though she loved to write and draw and play sports. When trying to tell her father something positive about her schoolwork during a parent-teacher conference, I celebrated Mercedes’ honesty, saying that she would never lie or cheat or make excuses to get her way through an assignment. She just wouldn’t do it, and she’d tell you as much—never rudely, but matter-of-factly, with no more malice than one would describe their breakfast plate. She was always very sweet and respectful to adults. It was just that she usually believed she had a good reason for not doing whatever it was that she was supposed to do and she was happy to share it with you. The crazy thing about Mercedes is that she’s a very bright and talented girl who, when she cared to apply herself, would often do a good and sometimes great job with certain assignments. But she was deliberate about where she applied her effort. She might not look great on paper, as a student, for those reasons, but she got into an excellent high school—partly, I think, on a recommendation from me.

Usually kids like Mercedes drive teachers crazy, but Mercedes puts a smile on my face every time I think of her. She just has that kind of sparkling, infectiously vivacious personality that automatically draws people into her. She was very popular among her fellow students, as you can imagine, but she never lorded it over them and she considered herself to be friends with everyone. She’s also a very pretty little girl, and her brains, combined with her looks and her considerable personality, put her in a fine position to eventually take over the world, or at least whatever career field she chooses.

So Mercedes found me on the bus, at my personal worst, absolutely thrashed with tired and wondering if I really had to show my face at work that day. But, wouldn’t you know it, by the time she and I said our goodbyes a while later when we both had to transfer, I was wide awake and laughing. She gave me a huge hug. She told me stories of her high school and about her former classmates. She told me that I was right to always have nagged her about not reading enough. (VICTORY IS MINE!) She’s trying to get a job at her neighborhood library so she can make some money and learn more about books. She’s already getting involved with clubs and sports teams at her high school. I have every confidence that she’ll be successful there.

And I have to admit, I love that, when my former students see me, they want to stop and talk to me, and I want to talk to them. I really feel like I succeeded with them—not necessarily in a way that would show up on a data report, but just that they connected with an adult who made them feel liked and cared for and that their trust and confidence in schooling in general may have been increased a bit because I was in their life. And I’m thankful to them, though, because my own confidence in this job is, at the heart, inspired not my administrators or reports, but by them. They are my bosses, my evaluators, and that morning, I felt like a success.
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