The end of another school year approaches, rapidly. Along with reflection and reassessment it brings a bittersweet feeling to teachers everywhere as they realize their time, however effective, stressful or chaotic is almost at an end with the current group of students. Soon they will leave the room that has been their class for nearly 200 days, an enormous chunk of time in a child’s life, never to return as students again. In future years they may stop by, to say ‘hi’ or see what the room looks like but their status in that classroom will be forever changed.
As the year winds down many teachers try to tie up the loose ends. Last week we were having an awards assembly to recognize good students, improved students, good sports and children who had demonstrated kindness to others. As I discussed names with my aide we reviewed who had previously been honored and who might deserve recognition.
I had one award left that I had not yet allotted, it was for children who had demonstrated kindness to others. After pondering the group for a while I mentioned a student that we had not previously considered. All year she had been a struggling student and we had expended enormous time and energy on her to try and bring her skills up to grade level. All our efforts had failed and in fact she had lost ground over the last quarter when the work became significantly harder. I had finally decided that we weren’t going to be able to remediate her in a normal setting and had put her in for testing to assess possible placement in special education.
As can be expected she had not contributed much to the classroom discussions or been seen as an asset in cooperative education activities with her classmates. She was quiet and unassuming like so many needy students who simply fade into the background.
Why single her out for an award then? There were several people in class who had made various overtures of kindness to others. Yet, as I recalled the year, I remembered that whenever we had a new student she was often one of the first to greet them. And when those new students had questions about rules or procedures; where to put finished work; where to find pencils; this child made it a point to respond to their questions. She was kind of the class ‘mom’. She did it almost offhandedly, without fuss, in a matter of fact manner. It wasn’t a big thing but it had helped several people solve simple problems so I decided to have her recognized for simply making herself available to others all year.
This was the day of the assembly, I quickly filled in my last certificate and sent it down to the master of ceremonies. A few minutes later we lined up and went to the cafeteria to witness the proceedings.
My class sat near the back, their legs folded, “criss-cross, applesauce” as good second graders should. Meanwhile a young man of more hats than Bartholomew Cubbins (that should send some to Googling) who came to our school this last year and has been the driving force behind the awards ceremonies, stood on the stage and read the names, shook their hands and passed the certificates out to the winners.
Eventually I heard the first of my student’s names called out but I knew that the kindness awards would be saved for last. My aide nudged me and nodded toward the girl that I had added as an after-thought to my list. Our little classroom mother sat stock still, her eyes glued to the announcer, her hands held out before her, both with fingers crossed.
“She’s sat that way the whole time,” my aide whispered. Of course hers was the last named called, like some TV suspense program, and the effect was electric at least, to me. She exploded up like a shot and took the certificate in her hands as if it was fringed in 24 carat gold. She stood in front of the group, her smile stretched from ear to ear, proudly displaying the award for all to admire. Later she ran back to show to me the paper I had just filled out a mere hour ago as if I had never seen it before and then she displayed it to anyone near her to prove it was truly hers. Back in the room she carefully put it in her backpack to make sure it would make it home so she could show her family. I was more than surprised, I was astonished at the effect this scrap of paper had created in her.
It leaves me wondering what other gifts have been given out over the last three decades that I know nothing about and probably never will.
As a teacher, sometimes you just never know, and that’s a big part of the magic.