I have taught high school for almost 30 years and teenagers still surprise me. This past year I have had a certain former student, I’ll call him Maurice, visit me before first period EVERY DAY to give me a “fist bump”.
Maurice struggled to learn algebra last year. His foundation was weak, and his family situation tenuous at best. “I’m moving,” he’d tell us often in the first semester. He did not complete assignments, even with extra help from additional support teachers and me. His quiz grades were low and I worried about him in a general way, but I really worried about whether he’d pass the state test. He was extremely quiet in class, never a behavior problem whatsoever, and I had to remind myself to pay special attention to him since he was not in the business of drawing attention to himself.
As the year unfolded, I remained optimistic on the surface but became more and more knotted inside. Could Maurice really pass the state test? Could he learn just enough to answer the minimum number of questions correctly? What if the state pushes the finish line to a different number? Then what?
Meanwhile I had students in that same class who were tracking towards the highest grade possible on the state test. They were visibly hungry for more examples, more practice, deeper understanding, They were very vocal. WHY? HOW? and WHAT IF? always preceded their comments and questions. I always felt needed by those students.
And yet, those students never visit me this year. They are scurrying from class to class, trying to keep on top of accelerated English reading, band competitions, and chemistry homework. Occasionally I’ll shout hello to them in the hall as they dart into geometry or algebra 2 and they’ll politely shout hi! back. But Maurice visits me. Every day. For the fist bump. I had no idea how much I was helping him last year.
It’s important for our students to know that we believe in them, especially when they don’t believe in themselves. You never know who you are really helping / serving in the moment, though you may think you do.
Maurice passed the state algebra test on his first try. But even if he hadn’t, I think he might still be seeking me out for our morning greeting. It wasn’t about whether he passed the state test or not. It was about me believing in him and respecting him as a human being, and he’s going to always remember that. I tend to be pretty sarcastic and as the students say, “Throw a lot of shade,” so I’m happy that Maurice saw beyond that.