Part Teacher, Part Mentor

     It is the fate of all educators to come across those students who put teacherly ideals to the test. For first-year teachers wanted to make a genuine difference in every child’s life, it can be frustrating and job-ending to realize that not every student is going to make significant gains in the classroom that year. Students who come but once a week, or who are tardy more often than not, or who transfer late in the year, or who are so far behind they cannot realistically pass their grade-level’s state test – all of these students can be overwhelming when one is truly working day in and day out to teach one’s subject.

      And then there are those students, the ones we we educators do not miss when they are gone. Those students, the children that sleep on a good day and cause ruckus and insurrection in a normal period. Such students seem unfazed by discipline, straight talks, or exciting lesson plans. No matter how many calls home or referrals or verbal warnings or praises or rewards or motivations, these students seem bound and determined to get nothing from our classes.

      Yet that is where we teachers sell ourselves short by measuring our success by a book or a test. At the end of the day, we are equal parts mentor and instructor, role model and educator. And that is how Kourtney (name changed) taught me a lesson. Be it grammar or ghost story, Kourtney just didn’t seem interested in anything more than chatting it up with her friends or attracting the eyes of a male passerby. As a ninth-grader, she had all the emotional maturity of a 2nd grader. I struggled to not give her the negative attention she seemed to crave, but it is tough when students like her offer so little opportunity for positive praise.

      Kourtney had a 20% and seemed to be proud of it. But even though she had missed every major assignment in our six-week grading period, she still faithfully came to every volunteer activity we held. She seemed to come alive helping other people, in a way that she did not in the class. She was curious and almost empathetic. Kourtney seemed more mature outside the classroom (maybe a 4th grader), and she genuinely seemed interested in serving our community.

     That was my epiphany – perhaps it was not my job to teach Kourtney run-on sentences and vocabulary words this year. Maybe my job was not teach her to recognize fragment sentences but help her piece together the fragments of her broken home as she reached out in service to others. If I can just show her the positive power of service as laid out in the Bible, in Martin Luther King, Jr., and college handbooks, maybe I could be a teacher who began to make a difference. I felt a peace, not the peace in giving up on a child but the serenity of realizing one’s role in another person’s life.

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