By Melissa Jarvis
Brenda has a gift for talking. She has a gift for back-talking. To teachers and administrators, Brenda says things like, “What are you looking at?” and “What I’m doing is not hurting you!” She has quite the talent for landing in lunch detention and occasionally in-school suspension. A time or two, she’s had out of school suspension. Brenda and I have a had a few hallway chats this semester and a few disagreements in the middle of the classroom. Brenda is loud and proud. Her behavior is quite frustrating to me. Until a couple of weeks ago, I thought Brenda and I could never agree on anything; I was sure she was a lost cause.
The city in which our middle school, plus two elementary schools, resides decided we do not need a resource officer any longer, a ten-year stint was enough. The city council voted that there really wasn’t enough money to provide the service of an on-campus police officer to the three schools and the community at large was better served with him on the streets, serving and protecting. When the parents, students, and staff found out we were losing our resource officer, there was collective devastation. Calls were made, the news showed up to interview our principal and a few students, and a plan was hatched. Our principal asked the English department to lead the students in a letter-writing campaign.
The classes came in and I told the students our mission. Most of them started writing quickly, while others needed a bit of encouragement. My fourth period rolled around–Brenda’s class. I wasn’t sure what reaction I would get from Brenda. Honestly, I anticipated a loud “Who cares?!” followed by a far-flung pencil. The class was quiet while I called them to action. I told them it was important to learn how to contact our government representatives and they had every right to tell the city council what they wanted. I reminded them that their parents and grandparents paid taxes which meant that they paid the mayor’s salary. I told them our community needed people to stand up for what they wanted and believed in, people who weren’t afraid to speak their minds.
Brenda looked at me with bright eyes and a huge smile and said, “You mean people like me?” The clouds parted and the sun shone down and for just a second Brenda and I saw eye to eye. I responded, “Yes, Brenda, people like you. Take every chance to use your voice to make a difference in this world.” She went right to work and wrote one of the best letters in the seventh grade.
That might be the one and only time this year Brenda and I understand one another, but I will always be thankful for that one moment and what it taught me. Every student has a calling; every student has a purpose. Students might be disrespectful sometimes and stomp on what is left of my very last nerve, but they deserve to be taught the good and right way to live. One day Brenda might be shouting out for my rights on the steps of an important government building, so I owe her my best effort.
In this season of thankfulness, I am thankful for students like Brenda. I am thankful I have the chance to tell a few young Americans they have a voice and they should use it for good and not evil, to help and not hinder. I am thankful I can encourage them to speak up and be proud of who they are, where they are from, what color their skin is, and how they believe. I am grateful that every day I can also remind them it is okay to stop talking and listen to what others have to say.
I am thankful to be a teacher.
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*I’ll call her Brenda for her protection and mine.