Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Power of the Post-it

Yesterday, our students came barreling into our room at the beginning of second period with all their normal enthusiasm. Friendly banter and noisy chatter about what they'd done in history class, questions about homework and projects due later in the day, jokes and stories to share with us in the aim of mocking each other. Passing period is always a bit rowdy, but it's good-natured, and they generally manage to calm down when it's time for class to begin.

In this sort of chaos, you can imagine that registering anything other than the general insanity of the atmosphere is pretty tough. So it wasn't until we were asking the class to settle down that I noticed one of our students, L., leaning his head down to speak quietly to a bright and friendly girl, G., before walking to his seat. As he left her, I saw that her head was down, hair hanging down so as to mostly hide her face, but not hanging well enough to cover the fact that she was crying. And not just a couple tears, but really crying. I wasn't teaching yesterday - my supervising teacher was - so I was just sitting on the side of the room observing. Because of this, it was easier for me to notice G.'s tears and keep an eye on her.

G. sat bravely through the first few minutes of class, occasionally reaching up to wipe away her tears with a tissue. When walking around to check homework, I gave her a gentle pat on the back - just a general show of support. As I sat watching the class, however - and her in particular, of course - I kept wishing I could do more. A pat on the back is nice and all, but what if she needed to talk to someone? What if she wanted to leave the room to have some privacy while dealing with her emotions? But at the same time, I wasn't going to stop class and bring everyone's attention to what was going on with G. Especially after my supervising teacher, not realizing G. was having these problems, asked her in front of the entire class to take off her sunglasses (which she'd donned to cover her red eyes). G. gently shook her head, and Ms. D. figured out that something was up, and so dropped the issue. But still, I sat quietly, wondering what I should do.

Enter the all-powerful Post-it note. I went to the supply shelves and grabbed a Post-it pad. I quickly jotted down:

Hey G., I hope you're okay. Let me know if you want to go outside and talk. If you'd rather just stay here, that's fine too. - Miss David

Walking around the class, monitoring student work, I casually stuck the note to her desk. I kept walking, not wanting to hover, but visually checked back after about thirty seconds. She smiled at me in thanks, but made no indication that she wanted to talk. Which was totally fine with me - I just wanted her to have the option.

After about five minutes, when students were working in partners, G. walked over to my desk and dropped a scrap of notebook paper, folded in half. She dropped it off with a small smile and walked back to her partner to keep working. Her note said:

Thanks Miss David, I'll be alright I just don't want to talk about it right now. But yeah thanks again. - G.

P.S. I'll talk to you when I'm able to.

We still haven't talked, which is okay with me, because she seemed a little more back to normal today in class. I figure now she knows I'm here and willing to listen, and she can and will come to me when she needs/wants. What's important is that in the moment when it mattered, she felt reassured and I felt less helpless.

And all because of a little Post-it.


jittacatgirl said...

I never cried at school in high school. Except once, when I got into an accident on the way to school.

This guy Jermaine who played on our men's basketball team came over to me in the hall and told me he'd driven by the accident and wanted to know if I was okay.

And I wasn't. And it made me cry.

He, to whom I'd never before spoken, gave me a hug.

Anonymous said...

One of the best things about teaching is being able to make a difference. Even if she never does talk to you about it, at least she knows you cared enough to offer.

Anonymous said...

just don't use one for a break-up :)

Teacher Anonymous said...

Three cheers for Post-Its! I don't know what I would do without them. Post-Its were a major avenue of communication in my house when I was growing up.

Dee said...

Sometimes just knowing that someone cares can make all the difference in the world.

Amanda said...

Something makes me think that 20 years from nowe she'll remember that post-it.

Hey, remember when you posed the question about whether you belonged with the "mommy bloggers"? I so loved your tribute to your mom I have tagged you for the Real Mom meme over at Tumble Dry. Hope you'll post. :) Amanda

TSM Oregon said...

Oh, Lara! I wish I had been blessed with teachers like you when I was in school!

That's wonderful. I love seeing how the things you deal with have made you sensitive to other people's emotions. It's like seeing the flowers after the rain.

So the next time you get "stuck"...remember that this happens for a reason. Maybe just so that that one girl could feel encouraged for that one moment. Maybe.

Girlplustwo said...

what a lovely part of your job, isn't it...holding the kids from a distance which makes them feel closer.

Angela said...

Rather sweet and heartbreaking both at the same time. I hope she's okay.

Major Bedhead said...

Oh, that's sweet.

Anonymous said...

Post-it, smost-it. That was you kicking ass in the classroom! Awesome job!

dancing dragon said...

I'm really glad there are people like you who become teachers. :)

Anonymous said...

I really like your idea of using a post it note.

If I am upset the worst thing someone can do is look me in the eyes and ask me if I am alright, the concern in their eyes just saddens me even more. It's a lovely gesture but sometimes I just need a little space to collect myself.

A note is a beautiful way of of showing you care without making it obvious to everyone else.

Bryan said...

That's really awesome, Lara. It's far more meaningful and rewarding than any contribution I could make to some corporation, and you know it. :)

Still Jill B said...

Is it too distracted of me to spend the last half of your post wondering how brightly colored the post it was, and what shape it was?

Some say I'm a visual person.

Lara said...

jitta - sweet guy, that jermaine. sometimes the sweetness is hardest to take when you've gone through something tough like that.

aly - yes, making the difference is wonderful. she has seemed better, fortunately, but she does know i'm here.

ali - hahahaha... you bring up a good point. i'll endeavor to remember that.

teacher anonymous - in addition to their usefulness in passing notes, they're also just good study tools.

dee - yep, i've certainly encountered that in my own life. i'm hoping it helped her in some way, too.

amanda - perhaps she will. something tells me that 20 years from now, *i'll* remember that post-it. and thanks for the tag!

TSM - i never really thought of it in terms of coming from my own struggles, but you may be right. i just know that i wanted to help... somehow.

jen - yes, caring about the kids is the easiest part of my job. by far.

angela - i'm hoping so, too. if i get an update, i'll be sure to let everyone know.

julia - yes, it was a nice exchange.

OP - kicking ass, eh? whatever you say, bro.

dancing dragon - awww, what a sweet thing to say.

lala - yeah, i acknowledged that as a possibility, which is why i'm glad i found a way to still take some action without embarrassing her. thanks to post-its.

bryan - i'm not sure it's more meaningful than *any* contribution, but maybe more than dog food. ;)

jill b - you are strange. it was pink, square. :-P

Tandava said...

Good for you. It would have been easy in that situation not to have done anything. I'm glad you didn't, and I hope I'd manage the same if it were me.

Lara said...

graham - i'm sure you'd have come up with a good idea to make a difference if you were in the situation. but in case you're ever stuck for ideas, now you know that post-its work well.