Against the Odds
One morning in our sheet of staff announcements, there was a mention about an “Against the Odds” award. This award was being sponsored by the largest newspaper in Cincinnati. The newspaper wanted to feature ten students across the entire area that were having success in spite of some personal challenges. They would do an article on each student selected and then invite them to a dinner with business leaders. I ran quickly through my class list mentally. No one was in a wheel chair, blind or deaf. It would be a long shot even if they were. Only ten students – not just from the city – but the whole area. I’m embarrassed to admit that my vision was so narrow about this opportunity.
Thankfully, Jim Wallace, an insightful guidance counselor suggested I nominate Dorothy. In spite of being born with a cleft palate and having several surgeries to correct this, she was having some success in our high school career academy early childhood education program. She worked conscientiously and had high grades in my class. She held down a job after school hours working in a child care center. Why not Dorothy?
But let’s be honest, this is frequently where the process breaks down. What teacher has extra time to go through a lengthy nomination process which usually requires many steps including a well written essay? Not one teacher I can think of has extra time for such a long shot possibility. It never ceases to amaze me how many letters of recommendation a high school teacher is asked to write and how long a good letter of recommendation takes to author. But I went to work anyway. I already knew Dorothy’s mom was disabled with serious health issues. I had to hold my home visit while she was in bed. I discovered her father had also died when she was very young.
Weeks later we found out she won the award! What a significant accomplishment for her this was. The newspaper sent a professional photographer right into my classroom to shoot a whole roll of film of Dorothy working on the floor with preschoolers. (I ran a laboratory preschool to train my high school early childhood education students). The resulting photo in the newspaper was the largest I had ever seen. It covered 3/4 of the front page of the education section. After all it was the newspaper that sponsored the award. The program made for the dinner was even more impressive, all glossy print. She received a $500.00 scholarship from business leaders. But best of all a young lady was getting a long overdue chance to shine. She became a temporary hero in our classroom instead of being just outside the inner circle. I have no doubt that this was an event that Dorothy will remember forever.
I shudder to think of how I almost over looked this opportunity. It taught me to dig a little deeper and take a few more risks as I look for a variety of ways to give my students the chance to shine.
Graduations will be happening soon. The same students will receive award after award at banquets and scholarship ceremonies. The vast majority of students will walk across the stage in their caps and gowns and that will be it. No special accolades except for the scattered applause from their families in a large auditorium.
Only teachers can make that event significant for more than just a small group of students. Yes, it will take a little more time and effort…time teachers don’t have. It may even take a little personal out-of-pocket money. I always liked to buy a small item I thought represented each student’s special talents. I brought their parents into my classroom ( all of my students). I carefully chose and dedicated a song to the class. That song played behind a slide show of their photos and memories we had made. I wrote a poem just for their class. I brought students to the front of the room one at a time and told a cute story or two about each one. I voiced their talents.
If you want to teach to change lives you have to find a way to make every single student feel significant. It’s a tall order and I promise you I fell short a time or two. I am human, not a saint. But as I look back over a long teaching career, it was the times I went above and beyond expectations to honor students, that make me most proud.
TEACH…To Change Lives
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