by thea marie
What's on my mind....
|She's a slim girl, fifteen and in the eighth grade. Since she's small in stature, physically, she doesn't stand out from the others who are thirteen and fourteen.
She would be pretty, but she wears too much dark eye makeup; it makes her look like a racoon or like a little girl desperately trying to be older. Even when she isn't wearing the makeup, her eyes are often tired. Her long blonde hair is frequently gelled into snaky hanks that don't look quite clean and add to her too-grown look, but that's the fashion in middle school these days. In its natural state, her hair is almost luxurious, a lot like cornsilk.
I worry about her. She rarely comes to school, and she doesn't smile very much. There hasn't been a week this school year that she's made it every day. Last week, she only came on Thursday. I have phoned her parents as is required when kids are absent so many times. I never get a working phone, despite several numbers having been provided. My colleagues have told me that an older sister had the same problem. I've long since quit phoning.
I've heard the kids make comments to her, not in mean spirit, but almost in wonder, "You're here."
She's very quiet and soft-spoken. I never hear what she says in answer.
Earlier this year, after several inquiries, we were notified that the social worker and the court had become involved in the absence problem. I mail home her progress reports to ensure that her parents, whom I've never seen, know that she's failing. You see, she's never in school on the days that they've been issued to the students to take home.
When she does come to school, she doesn't request the work she's missed or attempt to find out what went on. If I don't take it to her, or point out what has been posted, she doesn't get it. Lately I haven't been doing that. I feel I've done it enough times, and it's her responsibility now. Unfortunately, on the days that she does attend, she's taken to sitting and doodling, writing notes, drawing, but making little, if any, attempt to do anything academic.
But then I thought about it. She's probably embarrassed and overwhelmed. How can she be expected to get caught up or to get back on board when she's missed so much instruction? At this point, she failing all of her classes, and after all, she's fifteen, soon to be sixteen in the eighth grade- again.
Today was Valentine's Day. The Beta Club had conducted a Valentine Day sale to benefit our Relay for Life team. Last week students were able to purchase Valentine cards and suckers to be delivered today to their friends in the different Homerooms as a surprise.
I had a stack of them in my mailbox this morning to issue during Homeroom. I thought it was a cute gesture and felt good for those kids who would be the recipients. She had gotten two, but she was absent for Homeroom. She was also absent for first period, the class in which she's my student.
I had dismissed my second period class and was packing up when I could hear voices just outside my door, "Go on, ask her. They're on her desk. She'll give them to you."
I turned around to see who was talking. It was her. She standing there with a friend, who was urging her on. In her quiet voice, she explained to me that she was there for her Valentines.
She wasn't there to tell me why she wasn't in class. She wasn't there to get the work she missed. She was there for her Valentines. I wanted to scream.
But I didn't.
In that moment, it dawned on me that she probably was afraid. Not of me, but to face me with a request that she knew I would probably view as trivial. She's not a stupid girl; she knows that she's falling short, but perhaps its not within her power to do better or to rise above her circumstances. Maybe she's doing the best that she can. Maybe she needed her Valentines.
Without a word, I went to my desk and got them for her. She thanked me. As she and her girlfriend were leaving, I heard the girlfriend say, "See, I told you all you had to do was ask her."
I guess at times we all could use a Valentine or two.