Monday, October 28, 2013

Teaching Students Not Just "What", But "Who"

by Helen Pettiford

Every day, at Sanderson High School, I see students struggling to find an authentic identity.  I used to be one of them - although perhaps with a little less teenage angst than most. Adolescence is a time filled with searching, reaching, grasping, dropping, and ultimately becoming. Hope underlies all of this; and it’s a selfish hope – we hope to be understood, we hope to be accepted, we hope to be loved.  

Unfortunately, we often tune out those closest to us like our family and friends because “they have to say nice things to us” or “maybe they don’t really know everything …” Herein lays the value of teachers. A teacher’s encouragement can have a profound effect simply because it fortifies or restores love from family and friends. One such teacher fostered a spirit of authenticity in me by taking an interest in me.  Then, I took interest in me, accepted me, and loved me. She reinforced the truth that I am a person of interest because God made me that way. So, every day I go to Sanderson High School and I take an interest in students. 

God opened up my eyes to one particular student two years ago. I will never forget the morning I found out that Sophia’s* apartment had burned down overnight in an electrical fire.  She made it out with the clothes on her back and one family picture. When I met with her family later that afternoon I got to hear their story, which was overrun with hardships that had started years before the flames. Sophia was no stranger to homelessness and worrying about money for meals. Her academic progress had even been hindered for years because of such obstacles.   

Sophia desired to do well in school but didn’t feel worthy of success or even of asking for help. Her mom and I prayed over the phone many nights, we came up with a plan and I became Sophia’s mentor. We met every week and celebrated each milestone for the rest of the semester. Sophia transformed into an assertive, passionate learner. Although she didn’t need me academically anymore, Sophia and I continued to meet for her senior year. Just last week, I was overjoyed to get a postcard from her at college: she wrote, “Mrs. P, College is CRAZY…but don’t worry about me because I know who I am…” 

(*Sophia is not the student’s real name)

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