Kelly was a timid soul. She was a 7th grader in my English class more than 30 years ago. She sat silently in the front row over in the corner. None of the kids talked to her. She was a loner.
I was a first year teacher, full of enthusiasm and the raw energy of inexperience. The homework assignment for that week was to write a composition on a family pet.
After they settled into their desks, I started moving from student to student pointing out things in their papers that I thought were important. My focus was on the mechanics of the writing because most of the kids’ grammar, punctuation, and spelling was horrid.
I leaned over Kelly’s desk and looked down at her paper. I started pointing out the mechanical errors in her composition.
“Here”, I said pointing to the paper, “This is a sentence fragment. It has no verb.”
I pointed to another part of her composition and began to correct another mistake when suddenly, on the paper next to my fingertip, a teardrop fell. It smeared the blue ink. Before I understood what was happening another teardrop splattered on her paper. Her head was down and she was crying silently.
A wave of awareness washed over me. Her composition was about her pet dog, who she loved very much, and who had recently passed away. In it, she was sharing her sense of loss and hurt with me. I had completely ignored her message and had only criticized the structure and punctuation.
Another tear fell, and another; I felt like a jerk. I placed my hand on her back and patted her, as if that could take away the hurt feelings and sadness.
Kelly’s tears taught me a lesson that I will never forget,
We are human beings first.
There is much more going on in our classrooms than grammar and spelling. We, as educators, have more influence than we can possibly know.
Sweet Kelly, I wonder where she is today? I wonder if she knows what an impact she has had on my life? I wonder if she remembers those tears, as I do, thirty years later?