You Never Know What Will Happen

16 Mar

Four years ago I had a student walk in my door who had more problems in her life than I ever could have imagined.  For the sake of this piece, I will call her “Lisa,” though that is not her real name.  Lisa is an African American female from Oakland, who as I will elaborate later in this article, faced many hardships in her journey through high school. Now, I didn’t know about any problems in Lisa’s life for a while yet, but I did see some warning signs to indicate something was going on that was not right.  At the same time, I also saw a very intelligent and outgoing young lady with a lot of potential.  It was the simple question of “why are you late every day?” that opened a door of possibility that changed this student’s life for the better.

Aside from the everyday tardies, when Lisa was there her work was good.  She ALWAYS had a smile on her face and was great at talking to other students.  She failed that first year of English, primarily because she could not get to school on time.  In spite of that, at the end of her freshman year I asked Lisa to join the ASB class and to be a leader at the school.  Her first reaction, “What’s ASB?” Where Lisa came from, there was no ASB, students did not run for office or put on activities at school.  Eventually she came around and joined, though it definitely took a lot of asking on my part.

The first thing that needed to be attacked was Lisa’s tardiness.  What I had learned, with some help from another teacher, is that Lisa was getting a ride to school from her older sister.  Well, the sister did not always come to school on time because, as a senior, she had decided to check out early … mentally that is.  So, Lisa was paying the price.  With some consistent prodding, Lisa began taking the city bus in the morning, leaving an hour before school even started so she could arrive on time.  Go figure, little by little, Lisa’s grades began to improve.  This whole time her overall grades were pretty good, but first and second period were faltering due to ther absences.  With that out of the way, Lisa’s academic prowess began to grow by leaps and bounds.

In ASB, Lisa was growing into a great leader.  The first couple of years were rough, as she had no concept how the class worked and was still trying to find her voice.  At this point, the class was dominated by upper classmen – so there was some work ahead for Lisa.  However, she was well liked, eager to get involved, and learned very quickly how to put together a top notch winter formal.

While Lisa was starting to see all of the success with her new job and new foudn work ethic, there was a lot happening at home as well.  It was halfway through Lisa’s sophomore year that her mom left the family.  Lisa’s mom was a recovering addict, and deciding she couldn’t stay away any more, her mom left the family.  This could be enough to topply any student, but Lisa held strong and continued forward through the waves of emotion that assaulted her.

Over the next three years in high school, Lisa rose from being the sophomore class president, to being ASB president during her senior year.  She was elected by her peers to lead the school and make decisions on their behalf.  Lisa made a huge impact on incoming freshmen, many of whom would come up to her during the year and give her a hug.  Lisa’s smile and gregarious nature made her a great leader as she continued to grow.  Oh, and that girl that failed freshmen English graduated from AP English with a B.  She had come full circle proving that she had the ability to succeed.

The piece of this story that hits home for me is when Lisa refers to me as her school dad.  I never knew how the simple act of asking “Why are you late?” and then persuading a student to join a class could have such a huge impact on that student’s life.  I still stay in touch with Lisa and have heard of new hardships that she faces every day.  Lisa still has her family issues, but in spite of that she is a freshmen at Sacramento State and considering a career in education herself.  I’m not sure if that is the direction she will go, but knowing she is in college, knowing she will be successful, and knowing I had a part in guiding Lisa in the right direction and hearing her thank me for that makes my job worth it.  As a teacher, you never know what will happen, but if you take a chance and show a student you care, there can be amazing results.  There were a lot of chances for Lisa to give up, quit, and say she didn’t want to do it, but she never did; and with a few key people pushing and challenging her, Lisa was one of the proud few to truly smile on graduation day.

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