This post was contributed by Michelle Portera.
I know a girl. A very smart, beautiful girl who can be shy around her peers. She is passionate about science and her brain is constantly wondering things about the world. She likes who she is and is ok with the fact that others may not always value her personality type. She is unaware of how funny she can be and often delivers a perfectly timed one-liner followed by, “What? Why are you laughing?! ” Prior to St Andrew’s, she attended a “good” school, but found it hard to make friends or even find someone to converse with on a daily basis. School was something to get through and survive. Although she knew she had a lot to offer the world, it was a struggle to find people who were ready to acknowledge or receive it.
In 7th grade, she became a Saint. The smaller class size, diverse student body, and incredible teachers made school something to look forward to. The following year, she took a chance and tried out for the school play. She hoped for an ensemble role that would allow her to be in a group, blending into the background, where she is most comfortable. But. . she wasn’t anticipating the teacher eyes that can see past the surface and into the possibilities, or gaze at the acorn and see the mighty oak. She was given, not a blend in part, but a front and center role! To her, it felt surprising and scary, but also intriguing and hopeful. This brave girl decided to give it a shot. She looked forward to each practice, delighted to discover that singing wasn’t just something she did for choir, but something she truly loved to do.
There were Moments. Big scary ones. At rehearsals, her mind and body battled it out to see which version of herself would show up that day. Sometimes her mind would reassure her that she was safe, cared for, and able to embody her role in front of an audience. Other days, her friend Anxiety would freak out and she wouldn’t show up at all. Those days she went home defeated and disappointed in herself were the absolute worst. The next day was usually fantastic, though, because her teacher knowingly assured her, “It’s all part of the process,” and that empathy calmed the anxiety right down. It was a sweet surprise when peers asked how the play was going or said they planned to attend her performance. This sense of community was new and it meant everything.
In the end, she did it! Her grandmother commented that she wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes. After all, this was the girl who refused to unwrap birthday presents at her party because too many people were watching. Now her world had opened up, and with it, her confidence. She learned something that many adults
(read: me) have yet to fully realize–often, avoiding the hard thing means missing out on the good stuff.
This isn’t only about a theater teacher or a school play. It’s a nod to all the little moments that led to this. It’s the teachers who asked her to stand and present her work to the class, or taught her to work in a group, or pushed her just a little outside of her comfort zone. It’s the ones who have asked her questions about herself and made her feel worth knowing. The teacher who texted on a Saturday to say she enjoyed reading her essay. The administration who works hard to create a sense of community where everyone matters. It’s you reading this right now, because you are invested in this place and these people. It ripples outward, starting with the energy you bring here. Change mostly happens in small ways that, in the end, are a big part of who our students will become. Sometimes we see it and sometimes we don’t. We are hyper-aware of ways we need to grow in our professional practices–good teachers are always reflecting and adjusting. But balance any feelings of guilt or dissatisfaction with the knowing that you are part of life-changing work. That thing you wanted to do when you decided to go into education? You’re doing it.