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"I learned long ago that being Lewis Carrol was infinitely more exciting than being Alice."--Joyce Carol Oates

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

A is for Amber

This is the first installment of my alphabiography.

If wondering what the hell I'm talking about, then you missed this post. Read it first.

A is for Amber

I couldn’t think of a more fitting way to begin my alphabiography then to talk about my students. I love teaching, I love being a teacher and as much as it drives me completely crazy, I wouldn’t want to do anything else (quite yet). Amber and Dana are Irish twins (9 months apart) and probably two students that I will never forget. You run in to kids around town: at Wal-Mart, taking your money at MacDonald’s, passing in the mall, and when you do you rack your brain furiously trying to remember their name. Usually I can remember where they sat or how awful their parents were or who their best friend was but names completely elude me. So I say “hi” with a lot of enthusiasm and ask how school is going, hoping all the while they don’t ask me if I remember who they are (note to former students: don’t put your teacher on the spot like that! We teach 130 of you a year, I couldn’t possibly remember all of your names!). But Amber is one of those students that I will never forget. I think of her when having a difficult day and she’s one of those that will just flit across my mind from time to time.

More below the cut

Amber is one of five children. Her parents are really great people but were not blessed with a lot of intelligence. They do the best they can and truly love their children, but providing adequately for them has always been a struggle. Amber was in a particularly difficult reading class and I really had to come across as the authority figure. I think I might have scared her a little, actually (hehe). On the third or fourth day of school we were doing an assignment and Amber just couldn’t get it. The idea was completely eluding her, so I had her stay with me through lunch; we shared my ham and turkey sandwich and finished the worksheet with time to spare. While sitting there munching on chips and sipping Capri Sun, Amber began to tell me her story. She told me about her mom and her dad, her four sisters, what subjects she liked in school and which ones were very difficult for her. I listened, she talked and by the end of our lunch period a bond had already been created. Amber hugged me and said thanks for listening and ran out the door to her 5th period.

The next day, after class, Amber put a brown paper sack on her desk and pulled out her own sandwich. Our daily lunches together had begun. It was my first year at a new school, I hadn’t made any friends, I didn’t know anyone, so I figured, why not? Amber and I would talk about everything, from books we were reading to favorite tv shows. She would talk to me about the struggles they were having at home, teachers she was having a problem with and some days we even worked on homework. I have to admit though; my lunches with Amber were purely selfish. Never had I felt like I was making such a difference in the life of a child then I did for those 30 minutes every day with her. Some days Dana, Amber’s sister, would eat lunch with us, or other friends she invited would come by, especially if we were going to be talking about a book they had recently read. But for the most part, it was just Amber and I.

A week before Christmas, Amber’s family was evicted from their home. I still tear up when I remember her sitting in my room crying, telling me that her family of seven would be living out of their van. She wasn’t even upset for herself, she was sad because her dad felt like he had failed them. I did what I could, especially about getting them help for Christmas and luckily within a month they were back in government housing.

Amber’s a senior in high school now. She’s struggled with school but will be graduating in May. She calls me, not as often as she used to but at least once a month, to tell me how she’s doing or ask my advice about a boy (god help us!) or get help with a homework assignment. I have her younger sister this year and she is the spitting image of Amber and just as sweet and lovable.

There are a lot of people out there who do this job that shouldn’t. Teachers who come to school for the paycheck and the summer vacations. There are also those of us out there who work and work and work and are never appreciated. I truly consider myself one of the lucky ones. I love my job and I think, on most days, the kids love me back. I’m fortunate to have had a student that made such an impact on me. There are lots of teachers out there who can’t say that or don’t have that memory. Amber, thanks for splitting a sandwich with me.

Life Lesson: “Slow down and eat lunch. It might just be the meal that changes your life.”

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