Monday, March 22, 2010

A Credit to Her Profession

One thing I like to do with this blog is recognize stories about people who have done inspirational things. My daughter shared this with me tonight, an experience one of her friends, Ms. E, wrote to her. Ms. E is a teacher, and from what I can see, a very sensitive and wise individual. Enjoy!
Today I got to be a good teacher.
Okay, so obviously every day is a chance to do my job and do it well, but... Today I was reminded vividly about what it was like to be a 13-year-old girl, and got to dispense the advice that I wish someone other than my mother would have told me when I was that age.
I was in the office talking to my assistant principal, and when I walked out, K, a student of mine from first semester, was sitting at a desk, writing on one of our Official Student Statement sheets and looking, like.... intensely distressed. Now, K is a good girl. K never gets in trouble, was the one kid I've had who never turned in homework late, ever, and is just all around awesome. So to see her in the office writing on something... yeah.
"Hey, Miss K! What are you doing in here, petal?" I asked.
She explained that Ms. T, her math teacher, had caught her combing her hair in class. "She said it was nasty," K said. "And I put the comb away, and said I was sorry, but then she said..." K's eyes started to well with tears, her lower lip quivering. "She said it wouldn't even make a difference, anyway, whether I combed it or not."
"What did you say?" I asked, hoping she hadn't been sent to the office.
"I didn't say nothing," K said.
"You came at passing period?" I asked.
She nodded. At this point she was full-on crying.
I thought about how I had been at 13. God, was that a fucking shitty age.
"Well," I said, taking a deep breath, "two things. First, I'm really proud of you for keeping yourself together and not saying anything back to Ms. T. I know how hard it is when someone says something to you that hurts your feelings, even if they're a teacher. You made a really smart choice there, and you showed just how mature you are."
She nodded, the tears still coming down her cheeks, quick and heartbreaking.
"The other thing I'm gonna do is tell you what my grandmother told me when I was your age. This is age-old wisdom, K, are you ready for it?" I smiled, trying to get her to look less like she wanted to curl up into a ball and sink into the chair.
"My grandmother always told me that a lady should never reveal how she achieves perfection. You don't want people to see what goes on behind the scenes - you want them to think that you just woke up looking like your perfect self. If you need to comb your hair, you want to do that somewhere private, and walk out like your hair was always that way. Combing your hair in the middle of class..." I didn't want to say is pretty gross, so I paused, searching for something more tactful. "It's not ladylike."
She looked up at me with serious eyes, still wet with tears. "Yes, ma'am," she said. "I know."
"But most importantly, K," I said, "I know how important it is for you to look put together. I know you don't want to look messy, and that's why you were combing your hair. You need to find an appropriate place to do it, but there's nothing wrong with wanting to look well-groomed, you understand?"
"Exactly!" she said, a ghost of a smile finally coming to her face.
"Honey, what Ms. T said about your hair... I know she didn't mean it like that, but even if she did, she's wrong. Your hair is lovely, and you take good care of it and it shows."
The tears were still coming, but she was smiling now, wiping them away.
"But your hair is not the most important thing about you. It's not even the most important thing about the way you look. You could have long hair, curly hair, a giant Afro, you could dye your hair three different colors or have a big old bald head and you would still be absolutely gorgeous. You're a wonderful, beautiful girl, and nothing Ms. T or anyone says about you or your hair is going to change that."
I felt my inner 13-year-old smile. K smiled back at her, even if she didn't quite know it.
"Now," I said, taking a deep breath. "Let me get you a kleenex and a hug."
She took the hug first, then the kleenex. I left her finishing up her statement, and went back to my room to have a little cry.

No comments: