By BA @ Kids Matter
My student teaching experience gave me the opportunity to work with and learn from some very good teachers but I learned the most from the children. My second grade classroom was a typical public school class. The children were a mixture of different levels of learning, a wide variety of personalities, different family backgrounds and rich with diversity.
On my first day I was outnumbered by 30 to 1. I struggled to remember everyone’s name and connect it to a face; there was one student who caught my eye. She sat in the second row, about four seats back, and was a little African-American girl. She sat very still and spoke quietly. When I asked her name, she looked me up and down with a certain amount of suspicion. She had the biggest brown eyes that I think I have ever seen and I noticed that she had no eyebrows. She was dressed in a skirt, a blouse that was half tucked, and tennis shoes. She looked just like a typical second grader…but there was something that made her different. She was wearing a wig.
Now, this wig was not one for a child. It was an adult wig; a black, bob cut, with bangs that would have fallen right at an adult’s ears. On her it came to her collar, the bangs were practically to her nose, and were held back with two bobbie pins. Oversized was an understatement.
This little girl never missed school. I couldn’t wait to see her every day. She rode the bus to school and when she arrived her wig was always askew. Sometimes it was sliding off the back of her head, pushed forward or just generally crooked. Once we got it straight, it stayed that way until recess. After recess, it might be sitting half over one eye or slid over to one side. It never seemed to bother her.
Although she originally seemed quiet and reserved, I made a point to include her into lots of conversations during our lessons. She began to come out of her shell but she still seemed a little shy around me. I know teachers are not supposed to have favorites. Every child is special, but she was just so darn CUTE! By the second week, we had bonded. She was always eager to help and accepted any task that she was given. She really started showing an improvement in her school work. She was learning at her own pace.
One day, my supervising teacher shared with me that the little girl’s mother had put some kind of acid on the child’s head when she was a baby. That’s why she had no eyebrows or hair. It had never grown back after the incident. That explained why the wig did not seem to bother her; she was just used to wearing it. What a tough thing for a child to have to go through. This was something that she would have to deal with her whole life. I thought about her a lot, still do.
One afternoon after school I was sitting at the teacher’s desk and my supervising teacher was sitting at the table in the back of the room. I was grading papers when the little girl approached my desk. “Miss Rice?” I looked up. “Yes, sweetie, what can I do for you?” “Well,” she started slowly, “you know, um, well ummmm, I used to be afraid of white people, but I’m not afraid of you!” And she reached up and gave me a hug. I returned that hug with all of my heart, thanked her, smiled and straightened her wig. She ran out the door. That happened in 1972. It’s funny how things stay with you. I wonder if she even remembers me.I think about that brief exchange between the two of us, how important that was to me and to her and how a true connection can touch your heart forever. I also wonder whatever became of that sweet little girl. I hope that she grew up to have as big a heart as she showed me that day. We never really think about the impact we have on people throughout our lives.