Saturday, December 8, 2007

Making a Difference

I had a little girl in my class one year (normally I had only boys, who are statistically more likely to have emotional/behavioral disabilities.) I could call her “Tootsie” (Ring a bell?), but I will call her Kelly. Anyway, this little 11-year-old charmer (Yes, charmer, once we got the farting under control) had stolen my heart.

Picture Pigpen (of Peanuts fame), and you will see Kelly, but instead of dirt in a 3-foot radius, you would see books, folders, notebooks, pencil cases, an empty water bottle, and loose paper in a tiny encampment around her. It was not unusual to observe Kelly walk out of the room (arms loaded up) only to drop the entire collection in the hallway, two steps out the door. Imagine her picking everything up (alone, or with the help of some kind soul), only to drop everything again three steps later. That was Kelly. (And all this after spending ten minutes organizing the whole mess with me.)

Like many 6th graders, Kelly was tiny; only about 4 1/2 feet tall. She had chestnut-brown hair that someone in a hurry must have cut for her, chin-length. She also had warm brown eyes and an ever-present grin. She used words like “certainly” and “of course,” but pronounced “sotenly,” “of cose,” (apparently having avoided speech lesson practice in grade school.) Her shirts and her pants were too short and not appropriate for the season (It was cold. Kelly was wearing summer stuff). If you looked over the playground during recess, you'd see only one child wearing a snowsuit (in middle school). That child was Kelly. She was adorable if not fashion conscious.

One week, I brought in some of my daughter's clothes that she'd outgrown; several t-shirts, some gym shorts, a swimming suit, and some pajama pants with a matching shirt that read, “I heart chocolate.” (I had asked Kelly’s single dad if he minded. He said he would appreciate it very much.) When I showed Kelly the clothes, she was thrilled. “Of cose, it’s always nice to get new cwose!” she exclaimed. “Oh my gosh! This is adoable!” “Pajamas! I don’t have any pajamas!”

At that moment, I had a flashback to another little girl on a 1970’s winter night, standing awe-struck in the living room as Salvation Army volunteers came through the front door, bringing box after box of gently-used items for her family. I remember that she, too, was ecstatic and profusely appreciative, even though none of the items were brand-new. This little girl, too, wore clothes that had seen better days. She had haircuts that hadn’t cost a dime (and showed it). And she, too, had a cheerful spirit that belied her troubled home life and a certain sparkle that made a couple of sensitive teachers take notice and reach out to her. She, too, was worth that attention; attention that would change her life forever.

It dawned on me the day I brought those clothes in that I had a chance to make an impact Kelly’s life; not just as a teacher, but as a human being. A simple act of bringing her used clothing made her day. My heart warmed at the thought that I would have her for two more years after that one. I had the opportunity to keep the chain of teacher kindness and compassion going. I had made a difference in Kelly’s world, just as she had in mine.

I love my job.


  1. I find it so refreshing how much joy you get from your work. It shows in your writing, and I know it must make the kids you work with's days that much brighter!

  2. I've heard it said that teachers can make a difference in a child's life, and leave a lasting impression by how they teach.

    You add a different dimension. You make a difference because you don't just treat them as students. You see them as people. The personal aspect you inject into your classroom is what they will remember. That you really cared about them.

    When Tootsie is old and gray, and you're long gone, she will remember you. Now that's a legacy.

  3. That is great the dad was appreciative and let you help that child. It's a wonderful thing to make a positive difference in someone's life. Sometimes, we do things and see the results but other times we don't always see the difference we make. Being kind to people always makes a difference to them though!

  4. Thank you for loving your extremely difficult but so important job.

  5. Thank you for sharing your story. My family and I are having a rough time but your story reminded me that there is always someone worse off than me and that I should be grateful for what I have.

  6. You are a good and decent person, Mrs4444. God bless you.


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