Saturday, September 24, 2016

Number One

Vanessa Chambers Smith

I taught Junior AP Language and Composition in 2014-2015. One day, a few of my students were chatting in a group about their home lives, and they included me in the conversation. One of them told me that her father makes a list every day of the things and people that make him happy. She said that her placement on the list depended on her behavior, her grades, and any other criteria he felt like using - and that she was usually toward the bottom of his list. He’d say, “Today you are number eight,” or “Nine,” and so on. I thought she was joking, but her friends had been to her house and asserted that this was indeed the case. It just made me angry, that a parent would treat his child this way. I grabbed an index card from a drawer and quickly wrote “1” on one side of it. I gave it to her and said, “I think you are number one.” I would greet her as “Number One” here and there over the course of that semester, and she would smile.

Then I moved schools. She gave me a drawing as a going-away gift (it’s on my wall at my new school), and she added me on Facebook so that she could keep in touch. I forgot about the card until about a month ago, when I received a private message from her:

I didn't realize at the time how much that meant to her, and so it was a good reminder of the effect we can have on students' lives in the moments when we aren't teaching curriculum.

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