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“I love you daddy”

December 14, 2009

“I love you daddy.”

“I love you, too.”

“I miss you daddy.”

“I miss you, too.”

“Daddy, look at [unintelligible].”

“Yeah, those are nice Christmas lights.”
[I suppose when I have kids of my own, baby talk will become intelligible to me, too.]

“I love you daddy.”

“I love you, too.”

So went the conversation between a student of mine (we’ll call him Manny) and his son as I gave them a ride home from school tonight. Manny usually walks, not having a car, but it was already below zero by the end of the school day and I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight if I let him walk home in such frigid weather.

Manny has two sons and a complicated relationship with his ex-girlfriend (also a student of mine, we’ll call her Stephanie), with whom he splits custody. He hadn’t been able to see his sons for awhile because it was too cold for him to walk them from Stephanie’s house to his house, so his older son (the younger still being too little to talk) was excited to see him tonight when I stopped at Stephanie’s so Manny could pick them up. His son piled into the back of my car with a toy truck and immediately started chirping away about this and that, interjecting “I love you daddy” and “I miss you daddy” after every energetic comment or observation he made.

Getting glimpses of my students’ lives simultaneously breaks my heart and steels it, strengthening my commitment to this community and to education in general. Manny and Stephanie are both highly intelligent students who face unfair obstacles in achieving the academic success that comes so easily to students in better-off communities. Manny, for instance, missed several days of school while he dealt with the consequences of his housemates’ unpaid utility bills, an extremely urgent matter in a Montana December. Both of them, though sharp students, must work to overcome the deficiencies in their education due to the poor school systems on the reservation.

So much brilliance gets buried in places like Lame Deer; sadly, unlike physical artifacts that can be unearthed and admired at a later date when the world is ready, a life lived under the radar is simply lost, its beauty never to be uncovered, polished, and adored.

As a teacher who knows what lies inside each student regardless of his or her outward appearance or attitude, I ask you to please never judge a book by its cover, as the saying goes. The single dad, single mom, gas station attendant, Wal-Mart cashier, or janitor you’re looking at is a gem just like you; it just may be that no one in their lives ever bothered to polish them to a shine.

My dream as a teacher is to not only find diamonds in the rough, but to help lift them out so that others, too, recognize their brilliance and allow them to walk through doors that would otherwise stay closed. And not only so that others recognize my students’ brilliance, but so that they recognize their own worth and value to society and that they, too, have something important and meaningful to contribute.

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