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Tosha and Jeanice walked into my classroom and gave me one of those looks only women have the power to give.
The look that says, “I don’t like you and I don’t trust you.”
I felt it penetrate me. It was my first year as a teacher, and I was doing my best to act un-phased.
But I was phased. The way they looked at me got me to the core. And I will admit, I was a little intimidated.
It probably didn’t help that they were entering my classroom because I was their “math” teacher and I knew I went to school to be a social studies teacher. I was perfectly capable of teaching my students how to find the area of a triangle and pre-algebra; but the way they looked at me magnified every thought of self-doubt I had inside of me.
How was I going to teach these girls? They were tough. They were street wise. They saw things and knew things girls their age really shouldn’t know, hear or see. How could I reach them?
The reasons why parents choose certain schools for their children vary greatly. Some choose schools because they want their child to learn about their religion, others choose schools because they like the community they are in and feel the district is decent. Others choose a school based on academic intensity. Some choose a school because attending it is a family tradition.
In the city, many parents choose a school based on “where will my child be the safest?”
Even if some parents do not admit that is why they chose a school; it’s a truth. The school I taught in was a Catholic school. The education provided there was superb. The faith instilled was solid. But that was not why most parents chose that school. Parents chose that school because it was a safer space that the public schools around it.
The neighborhood in which this school was located had gangs living and recruiting in it. The crime rate was high and it was one of the neighborhoods you often heard about on the news when they talked about shootings. The realities these girls faced were not typical of most American 12 year olds.
But for some reason; God put them in my care for an hour or so a day. I wanted to reach them.
While thinking about how; I came across some advice from Mother Teresa. She had just passed away the week I met these two girls; so she was being discussed on the news and in many circles.
I remember reading these words credited to her:
Smile at one another; that will help you grow in love with each other.
For the life of me, I can not find this quote anywhere now. But back then, I read it somewhere. I thought, what a great idea. I can try that!
So I went into work and thought, I am going to test this idea.
Tosha and Jeaniece walk into my class right next to each other like they did every day. They have their tough girl faces on. I look at them and give them the most fake, cheesy smile I have ever given. They look at each other and crack up.
They were totally laughing at me and thinking I was nuts.
But I broke them. That tough girl look went away for a brief moment.
I continued to give them a fake smile every day they came in. Eventually I was laughing at myself.
Eventually, my smile became real. Eventually, that tough girl look no longer walked into my classroom. Soon these two young women were walking into my classroom, smiling at me and saying “Hi Miss Gould” with the most genuine, beautiful smiles!
I am getting emotional just thinking about them and this awesome memory!
I ended up LOVING these girls and enjoyed teaching them and their classmates so much. At one point towards the end of the school year, there was an assembly. I don’t remember it, but I do remember it must have been about the birds and the bees because the boys and girls were separated.
What I do remember was that afterwards I had all the girls in my classroom. I remember sitting on a desk in the middle of them and they were all circled around me. They were asking me personal questions about my first boyfriend and you can probably guess with your imagination what things they wanted to know.
I shared with them my thoughts and experiences.
Afterwards another student, whom I felt close to, said to me. “Everyone likes you a little more now.”
A fake smile turned into a real smile. The real smiles created a trusting relationship. That trusting relationship grew into something more.
Thank you Mother – I mean Saint – Teresa.
That advice – ‘smile at people and it will help you love them’ stuck with me. I have used outside of the classroom as well as in it.
I totally and highly recommend trying it out. Especially with the people you see often who you are having a hard time loving. In fact, I need to really follow it again too.
Although I could not find the original wording of the way I recall reading that advice; I have found this quote:
“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” Mother Teresa
The gift of a smile is something all of us can give. No matter how old we are, how much money we have or what experiences we are going through – we can give the gift of a smile.
Simple. Powerful. Universal.
If you smile at me I will understand / ‘Cause that is something / Everybody everywhere does in the same language” – Wooden Ships, Crosby, Stills & Nash
Interested in learning more from Mother, soon to be officially Saint – Teresa? Check out these affiliate links!
Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta
Mother Teresa and Me: Ten Years of Friendship
Beautiful! And so timely. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m going to make a point of smiling more. 🙂
Thank you Alicia! You just made me smile!
Alicia Potvin says
It reminds me of what I have told my daughters when they work at jobs with difficult people. Always be cheerful, cheerful will beat anything coming your way. It did for me in our inner city school. The more cheerful I was, the easier the parent was to work with. As to my stories, I thought on getting them published but it didn’t work out so they stay on my shelf. Oh, and I put my last name so Alicia and I wouldn’t be mixed up, I think it was happening – LOL.
What a beautiful story, thank you for sharing!
Sara @ To Jesus Sincerely says
Amy, I was a math teacher too! It’s like instant. wall. Everybody hates their math teacher right?! lol. I remember working so hard to connect to those kids. I love the attitude you took, amazing!
Thanks – Thank God for Mother Teresa’s advice – I don’t know what I would have done without it!
Cindy Coleman says
Great article. I love the quote you closed with, last year as I learned more about St Mother Teresa around the time of her canonization I added that quote to my email signature so I read it every day and spread it around. 🙂