Invitational Living

By:  Staci Stallings

I’m reading a book about teaching.  There was an interesting piece in it I want to share with you.  It talked about being Intentionally Inviting to your students.  I’d never really thought about this though I think I must do it naturally.

For example, one of the things it talks about under this category is that the teacher should stand outside the classroom and welcome the students.  I can’t say I did this all the time, especially when I started “really” teaching because I had six different classes in four different classrooms (never back-to-back).  So most of the time I was running to get to the next class just to be there on time.  Forget having the time to stand out and greet the students.

However, I did do this when I student taught one class in particular.  It was a Journalism I class.  That meant the students sat in desks and learned how to write “journalistic style.”  Older students worked on the newspaper or the yearbook.  These students, mostly freshmen, weren’t even allowed back into the hallowed halls of publication.  No, they were stuck with me.  (Poor things.)

In fact, over the course of my time there, I learned that this teacher became a student teacher’s mentor teacher for one reason–so she didn’t have to teach J1.  I think I observed for about three days in there and then one day, she said, “It’s yours.”  And it was.

She didn’t help me plan.  She didn’t help me grade.  Most of the time I was teaching she wasn’t even in the room!  Instead she was back in the hallowed halls of publication, helping the older, less problematic students.  At least she saw the J1 kids as problematic.  The truth was many of the 15 to 20 of them didn’t want to be in the class at all.  They had no desire to learn to be journalists.  The class was an elective, and when they signed their schedules, it looked easier than wood shop and theater.  So here they were.

I was also student teaching in the technology classroom in the morning, but that was a little different.  That teacher taught, and I kept the computers running… for the most part.

But J1 was MY class.  These were MY kids.  I planned the lessons, taught the lessons, graded the lessons.  I did it all.

One of the things I did almost consistently was stand out in front of my door as the students were coming to class.  This worked because I didn’t have any class beforehand to be finishing up, and I loved it.

I remember in particular two days of doing this.  One, one of my most promising male students, hobbled up on crutches with his knee all bandaged up.  “What did you do?” I asked.

The short version was, he was playing football for fun, and someone tackled him wrong.  As I recall, that knee never really quit bothering him.

The other I remember was when a young lady who was not the sharpest tack in the bunch, nor particularly interested in journalism (though I think she would have done well in Boys 101), had been missing for several days.  The door where I stood was at the end of a long hallway.  On the other side of the hallway were lockers and the next door to me led outside.  I can still see her walking down the hallway.  No one had known why she was gone, and I had begun to really worry about her.

As she walked up, I threw out my arms and called out her name, surprised and happy she had returned.  She looked a little surprised and then hugged me back.

Her first question was, “You missed me?” as if she couldn’t believe it.  “Of course, I missed you.  Where have you been?”  And she told me that she had been sick and that it had been a long day, etc. etc. etc.

Strangely her grades improved in J1 after that day.

Finally, I remember one young man.  He was short, Hispanic, not into academics and boring things like that.  He didn’t like to write.  In fact, he’d taken J1 to get out of English (don’t think you can do that now, but I’m guessing they just didn’t know what else to do with him).  I don’t remember any particular time that I greeted him at the door or even any particularly earth-shattering moment in class.

What I do know is that sometime in the course of those 15 weeks, he got the invitation to believe in himself that I was so desperately trying to send to all of them.  How do I know this?  Well, I wouldn’t have except…

On my last day there I asked my kids to write a short paragraph to me.  They could say anything they wanted.  They could tell me what I had done wrong, what I had done right.  It didn’t matter because I was leaving that day, and I would never be back.  Further, this was not for a grade, so they were free to tell me anything they wanted.

At the end of class, I collected them, said my good-byes, and they left.

I had a two hour drive back home, and on the way, I decided to read a few of them.  BIG. MISTAKE.

When I got to Joe’s, it was really well-written.  Probably the best thing I’d read all year.  Clear.  Concise.  And I was happy.  Maybe I had done some good after all.  Then I got to the end of it, and I remember that last sentence like I was reading it right now:

“Last of all, believe in yourself because I believe in you.  Because you told me that once, and I’ve never forgotten it.  So I want to tell you that now.”

Did anyone go on to be a star journalist from that class?  Well, one guy went on to write for the school paper and become the editor.  The others?  I don’t know.

I do know that by living with my life being an invitation to THEM, I received so much more in return.  Maybe just that much is enough.  And who knows, maybe those ripples in that little pond spread farther than I will ever know this side of heaven.

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