Monday, May 19, 2008


I have this student. She's not even my student anymore. I taught her last year and she played soccer for me and I drove her home a lot because no one ever came to get her from school.

Natasha is the epitome of why I think I'm meant to be here.

She is not the perfect student. She's not even that nice on bad days, but she is amazing. She is a kid who, despite all the awesomely bad things flying around her, is making it. She's holding on. What's more, she's actively trying to get herself to a new life. A place where people don't shout in the streets at midnight, where you can not only pay your bills, but buy a house. Where you can be safe and know that the people you love are safe.

There is no question that the odds are against her. This is a kid who has no safety net. One slip and she's gone. One mistake and the game if is over. No second tries. Imagine for a minute what that kind of life would be like? I was raised to believe there was nothing I couldn't do. I believed it because my parents were there every step of the way. Even if I did fail, they were there to catch me. To love me. To spur me on. Imagine for a second if your childhood didn't look like that. Imagine if it looked like this. Then tell me if you would get up every day and keep fighting. Tell me if you would see, at 14, that there is so much more to the world than what you've been handed. Tell me if you would be able to keep fighting.

I honestly don't know if I would. But she is. And if I fail at everything else I attempt for the rest of my life I do not want to fail at this. Helping her. She matters too much. She matters because she's not perfect. She makes mistakes. She's grumpy and disorganized and difficult. She matters because when I walked in to her apartment last week -- annoyed because I was running late and she should have just remembered to bring her application form for the high school we're trying to get her into to school with her -- I saw a mess and I heard her mother tell her that the reason she had yet to sign the form was because she lost it.

She lost the only piece missing for getting Natasha into a good school. A school she was afraid to apply to because of the distance away from home. It's a 10 minute drive if that. But again, remember how different her life is from yours. I was never afraid of 10 minutes because my parents would take me anywhere if it was important. Her mom has yet to show up to sign the third copy of the application I've printed out and I'm taking her home again today to get the application signed.

So Natasha matters because of all of that. She matters because she asked for help. She matters because someone has got to fight the odds with her -- there is no question she will not make it if she fights alone. Someone has got to say that this kid is not going to be a statistic. This kid is not going lose her chance.

I've realized over the past two years that there are kids who are just downright hard to deal with. Hard to love. You do what you can and you work hard not to hurt them. There are kids who live in this neighborhood and have a family and a network and are doing okay. You help them and you push them and you know they'll get by. Then there are kids like Natasha who need someone to help them so badly it can break your heart. I can't help all the kids I teach, but I can help a few. And Natasha is one.

Here is the letter I wrote to include in her application. The deadline has passed and the spots are now on a first come first served basis. I hope and pray that by some chance or miracle they let her in. She deserves so much more than the path she's on and the life she's living.

To Whom It May Concern:

I have never been one for slow and steady. In school and in life, I have always lived full-out, top speed all the time. I think this comes out naturally in the way I teach and the students who gravitate toward me. Except for Natasha.

I have known her well for the past two years. She worked diligently in my seventh grade English class, has applied herself in her 8th grade AVID program and has been a hardworking star athlete for both the girls’ basketball team and the girls’ soccer team (of which I was the coach). As an educator, if I had to pick one student who deserves a chance — a shot at something different—this girl is it. This is the student to take a chance on. What your school will gain from having Natasha as a student will match the impact it will have on course of her life.

Natasha is anything but over the top, over emotional, overly exuberant. She is quiet, focused, steady to a fault. She is not the student you would expect to be sitting in a classroom early one morning as her crazy English teacher runs around the room preparing for the day. And yet, there she was day in and day out. Stapling papers, reading her reading book, sometimes just sitting. Silent.

What I initially mistook in Natasha’s silence as a lack of interest, I have come to recognize as a true strength in a remarkable young girl. Natasha lives in a loud world. Her friends are loud,; her apartment complex is loud,; the halls of her school are loud. While she participates in jokes and conversations like any young girl would, she also takes the time I see adults twice her age give up: the time to sit back, to look and to really listen. What she can tell you about the world would startle you.

In all her silence, she sees the way students act and she understands why. She sees their pain, their cries for help or attention. What’s more, she understands. Sometimes I feel like I have to pry out an answer to a simple question like, “How was your day?” with a crow bar and sometimes she blows me away with her insights in moments when I hardly realized she was in the room.

That’s the kind of student and person Natasha is. She has depth — and experience — beyond her years. She’s fighting hard to overcome the struggle of a hard life and I urge you to be the next educators who fight hard to help her grow and utilize the depth and understanding that has already begun to show in her young life.

Natasha will be the first one to tell you that life is hard. She will also be the first to tell you that she is fighting to get out of the place she lives and that the first step in that fight is getting into a good high school. I never was a fan of “slow and steady wins the race” until I met Natasha. I guarantee you that if you find a place in your program for her, you will soon learn what I mean.

1 comment:

Jamie Hergott said...

bravo, sam.

ok now i wanna be a teacher.


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