What It Means to Be Known, Challenged, and Loved

Posted by bhulsey - 09 May, 2012


Not long ago I stopped by Kathie Clayton’s sixth grade language arts class.  Classroom visits are invariably a highlight for me because I get to see Randolph in action, and on this particular day the boys and girls were moving through a variety of stations putting to work some sophisticated vocabulary from classical Greek mythology.

As the class period drew to a close I drifted over to Kathie’s desk to take some notes, and I was struck by a photograph on her bulletin board that turns out to be her 6th grade class picture from when she was in school.  Kathie has it there to remind herself that she was once a sixth grader, and remind her students that she was once one of them. 

It’s a symbol, of course, but it’s a powerful tool that humanizes the interaction that teachers have with students and that students have with teachers.

And then I locked onto a hand-written poem by her student, Bankston Creech. 

“Moments” blows me away.  The fact that it’s written by a 6th grader is almost unbelievable to me, as it captures one of the truths in life that many of us never grasp: we’re incredibly small and incredibly big at the same time.  I absolutely love this poem.  Bankston seems to be telling her readers that we all matter, and that’s a message that will hold her up for the whole of her life.

Truth be told, I also love the poem because I know a good bit about Bankston from her parents, Amy and Steve.  (By the way, they know I’m writing this blog post!).  I know that over the years Bankston has been a little cautious and a little careful.  She’s a little shy (especially around adults), a little quiet, a little unsure of how she fits into the wider social world that can get the best of all of us.  She’s the kind of kid that I love to watch, because it’s at a place like Randolph that she can really begin to shine, and that’s what happened in Kathie Clayton’s class.

It turns out that Amy found the original poem in Bankston’s binder.  It wasn’t part of a class assignment, it was just something she created on her own.  Amy was overwhelmed, and insisted that Bankston share it with Ms. Clayton.  Bankston hemmed and hawed, as she’s not the kind of Middle Schooler who craves attention.  When her mom renewed her insistence that Bankston give the poem to Ms. Clayton, Bankston relented, but got a classmate to drop it on Ms. Clayton’s desk, again unsigned.

Kathie loved the poem, too, and immediately began asking about it on the following day.  Bankston sheepishly rose her hand half-way when Kathie asked her class about the origins of the beautiful poem on her desk.  Kathie seized the opportunity and over time encouraged Bankston to enter the poem in a contest, displayed the poem at Grandparents’ Day, and urged her to join the Creative Writing Club, which Bankston now loves.

More and more Bankston shares her insights in class discussions.  Recently she wrote two original poems for Middle School Community Time, and recited her work on stage in front of everyone.  As Amy wrote me this week, “I can’t tell you how magical it’s been to watch our beautiful, shy little girl feel confident to take what to her is incredible risk, and allow us all to see, just a little bit, what’s inside.  It sounds hokey, but Kathie is like this golden key who entered Bankston’s heart, turned and unlocked it.  She gave her the confidence to begin to share her gifts.  I think in the future, as an adult, Bankston will remember this relationship with a very special teacher as one that changed the path on which she was guardedly walking to another on which she could start to run.”

This story means more to me than I can find words to express.  It’s a great testament to what it means for a parent and a teacher to share in partnership the responsibility and the opportunity to open a world up for the children under our care.  These kinds of connections happen in every division and in academics, the arts, and athletics.  And this one connection in particular is a great example of why ours is a special school, and what this place can mean for every boy and every girl.

Topics: community, learning, mission, poetry, writing, Head of School, Faculty, nurture, cognitive growth, Community of Learners

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