Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Little things

In teaching, in life, in just about everything, it's the little things that count, right?

One of my students has really started standing out this semester by doing those little things, and something she did the other day was literally little. So much so that I'll now call her Little Paper Girl. Last semester, she was just another shy Asian girl, rarely volunteering answers, rarely speaking in class. She did good work, she tried hard on everything, but she was just ordinary. This semester, she's speaking out, often saying ridiculous things.

As I was collecting essays yesterday, she caught my attention and said, "I had a little problem with the printer." She held up her essay, neatly typed and stapled: It was on a quarter page. "It looked fine on the computer screen," she said, "but when I printed it, it came out like this." She said it with such sincerity, and the class laughter was so good-natured, that I had no choice but to accept it. Now I have to mark an essay that is in what amounts to 3-point Times New Roman font.

Little Paper Girl showed up after school to audition for the spring play. Though she claimed no acting experience, her performance stood out so much so that the student directors said afterwards: "She was the biggest surprise."

The German update

The German did not hand in an essay of any size. In fact, he wasn't in class. After school, I saw him, and he claimed to have been in the health center. Fair enough. But two hours later, I found out that he did end up going to rugby practice.

I planned all sorts of retaliation against him today. I wasn't going to let him into class if he didn't have the essay in hand. Even if he did, maybe I'd give him a zero. Or maybe one letter grade lower and a demerit. I ranted about him in the staff work room and at lunch.

And then he wasn't in class again. Turns out he's in the hospital. Stomach problems or something.

Bangladesh update

As punishment for saying some stupid insensitive thing about Bangladeshis, one of my students agreed to do a presentation about people from that country that counter the stereotype.

"I expect all of you to take this seriously," I warned the class before he began, not telling them what he was about to do. When he started, there were a couple of scattered snickers in the classroom. But then he did something amazing: he absolutely captivated his classmates.

There are a few scientists and a fairly well-known economist from Bangladesh. Everyone seemed to know that. But there was stunned silence when he told us about one of the co-founders of YouTube (he's worth something like $500 million now). And this story: a 17-year-old Bangladeshi student stepped in to defend a group of people on a New York subway from some bullies. The kid got beat up, but then was recognized by the mayor for being a hero.

"What I said in class the other day was stupid, based on stereotypes from the media and other people," the presenter said in conclusion, "and I just want to say that I'm really sorry."

Apology accepted. It was a little thing, I know. But maybe it counts for something.

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