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April 20, 2018

Teacher Inspiration: Lessons Learned from a Student

Every single one of our students has a story….

Is it just me or has the entire Prom experience morphed into a full-blown production? Online videos are posted, both expecting and un-expecting dates-to-be are surprised in front of large groups of peers, and more is made of the “question” than the event.  Yes, I get it…It’s almost a competition and I like to win.  There was an occasion, however, when a different type of “promposal” took place for all of the wrong reasons.

Prom season is now upon us and it’s typically a time to recognize some of the leaders of the building, provide a fun and relaxing end-of-year social event, and create picture-perfect moments for Moms & Dads donning cameras. Prom is short for promenade and has always been meant to be a celebration for everyone involved.

I’m going to share a story of when prom was meant to be anything but a celebration yet ended up being a night to remember.

For the sake of the story, I’ll tell you that his name was “Adam.”  He was a student of mine who would have been best described as “different.”  His mannerisms, social acumen, appearance, interests…They were all against the norm…and I was never sure if he was fully aware that he was…you know…different.  It was my second year in the classroom and, to be honest, I was barely hanging on.  My lesson planning, classroom management, and overall approach all needed work.  I wasn’t entirely prepared to notice which of my students needed work as well.

All of the students were buzzing one morning in the spring, and I quickly learned that the prom court was about to be announced.  Student voting had completed the previous week and everyone was excited to hear the results. As I recall, a representative from student council took to the PA system in the front office and began to the read the names during 2nd period.  Some of my students were cheering as they heard the introduction of students both known and popularized by their involvements in sports, cheer, and activities. One after another, the remaining names of the year’s prom court were read and it was at that point that I stopped in my tracks.  “What did I just hear?” I thought to myself.  “It couldn’t be.”

The last name read was Adam’s.

It didn’t take long for the school to learn that a plan had been hatched by a group of students and Adam was the target.  It was cruel. It was mean-spirited. It was supposed to be funny.

It wasn’t.

Before I knew it, one of our school’s veteran English teachers was at my door.  He had Adam in class, as well, and had heard the same surprising news about prom court.  We met after school, talked about what had happened, and decided what needed to be done.  We knew that Adam was unaware that this was a prank so it was difficult to know exactly how to proceed. 

I have no doubt that Adam owned no more than 2 shirts and I’m certain that he wasn’t entirely accustomed to routine hygiene practices….He was a bit of a mess. We decided to meet with him to talk about prom and what the night would entail. Somehow, my teaching colleague was able to acquire some funds from the school and it led to an expedition of sorts. He, Adam, and I traveled to the mall at the end of the week – It was a trip I’ll never forget.  We talked him into a new dress shirt (which was a compromise between our suggestion of a sport coat and his insistence upon getting a new t-shirt) and convinced him to select a pair of dress pants.  The three of us walked the floors of the mall for about an hour before heading out. 

As we left the parking lot and began to head back to the car I asked Adam, “Where are you planning to go to dinner before prom?” We had money set aside and were prepared to cover the bill but Adam said, “Nowhere…I don’t really have anyone to go with.”  Five minutes later, our car found itself in the parking lot of Red Lobster and my teaching colleague (and driver) announced to the group, “I think we’re going to have a prom dinner right now.”

I didn’t argue…and neither did Adam.

We ordered, ate, chatted, and paid the bill.  All the while during dinner, I was trying to figure out a way to encourage Adam to shower and shave before the dance and I think I ended up saying something like, “Are you planning on shaving the day before the dance so that you’re not rushed getting ready the night of prom?” It was just a way to subtly suggest that he be as ready as possible for the big night.  Then it happened…He looked at both of us and said, “I know what they did and I know that you’re trying to help.  I know exactly why I was voted on prom court and that’s o.k.  There are hundreds of kids in the building who would have wanted to be on court, but guess what? I’m on prom court. It doesn’t matter how I’m here, I’m here.”

It was a quiet ride home. 

When we arrived back at school, Adam said “Thanks, guys,” took his purchased items, and walked home.  I didn’t volunteer to chaperone prom that year as I was fearful of what I might see and how he might be treated.  I later learned through a first-hand account that he enjoyed the night, laughed, danced, and made the absolute most of his time on the court.

Every single one of our students has a story and I think about what happened for Adam at this time of year every year.  Did you notice that I didn’t say “to Adam?” For him, it ended up being an opportunity.  Students can reveal themselves in amazing ways and if you’re a high school teacher like me, you might just listen a little more closely when your school prom court is announced. Had it not been for the suggestion of an amazing co-worker and the honesty over an all-you-can-eat shrimp platter, I might not have learned the lesson that a cruel joke by some could end up being an honor of a lifetime for another. 

I wish I could tell you that the experience of being on Prom court changed Adam’s life forever and that he went on to blossom as a student and has accomplished great things in life.  However, I can’t.  The parking lot farewell was our last conversation and the rest of the story is as well known by you as it is by me.

Have any of you garnered teacher inspiration from one of your students? Share with us your story below!

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