A couple summers ago I worked at a summer camp for children with diabetes. Each week comes to a close with the long awaited Thursday night dance. Looking back to my middle school years, I remember how awkward it was at school with just my friends. Imagine putting fifty middle schoolers who have been with each other less than a week in a small room for a dance.
During this particular week with middle schoolers, I was just going about my typical counselor responsibilities. I was observing the campers during the dance, making sure the campers’ blood sugars weren’t dropping. As I watched these kids, I noticed the various groups scattered awkwardly around the room. There was a group of boys who were goofing off in the corner, a few girls were huddled together telling stories, and then I noticed one girl sitting by herself in the back of the room.
The other campers and counselors didn’t notice her at all. I had noticed earlier in the week that most campers ignored her and thought she was dumb. I went up to her and asked if she would like to come dance. She shook her head no. I asked if she wanted to play foosball and again she shook her head no. I was out of ideas; those were the only two activities scheduled for that time. I went back to dancing with the rest of the campers because there was nothing I could do, or at least that’s what I thought. I kept looking back at her every minute or so. She wasn’t talking to any of the other campers and looked sad as she sat there alone staring at the floor. Something was wrong and no one else even noticed. I went back over and sat next to her. As I started talking to her, I found out she had mental health disabilities, and the other campers thought she was dumb and incapable of being part of their groups and games. She continued to tell me about herself, and I discovered many hidden talents. She was very musical and smart, but no one had taken the time to see that.
At the end of the week, this young girl came up to me, gave me a hug, and thanked me for helping her have one of the best weeks of her life. I sat there puzzled for a few minutes. All I did was talk to her, get to know her, and invite her to be part of the activities. Most of the time she refused and sat on the sidelines. I think she noticed my puzzled look and told me that even though she still didn’t want to take part in the activities, she knew someone noticed and cared about her.
Life is not all about participating in every activity and getting everything done in a day. We tend to think this way and get distracted from the important things in life. In teaching, it is easy to feel like there are so many things to do to get ready for the school day or at home that leads to being too distracted to notice the one student who really needs us. Sometimes, the little things like noticing someone is not having a good day and listening to them is what matters most. As teachers we need to be observers. When we are with the students, our time should be devoted to them. We need to remember to stop, observe, and serve our students in need.
Have you stopped and looked for the students in need? How can you best teach and help these students? What do they need to be able to succeed?
Mormon Message: Have I Done Any Good in the World Today?