Little Mavis is an imaginary student invented by my principal. She’s pretend. Any resemblance of Little Mavis to a real student is merely coincidental. Nevertheless, Mavis was fundamental to my development as a teacher. She would randomly appear in conversations like this:
New Teacher: Do I really have to take my third period class to the high school Show Choir assembly? My third period is already behind all my other classes, and this will just put them further behind. (Side note to new teachers—this is probably not a good question to ask at faculty meeting.)
Principal: If Little Mavis has a brother in the Show Choir, she will go home broken-hearted that she didn’t get to see him perform. After school, her mother will call and be upset with both of us. So yes, you do need to go to the assembly. (Side note—this applied to every assembly, not just Show Choir. Little Mavis would be equally devastated if she didn’t get to see Birds of Prey or Secrets of a Mad Scientist.)
At our middle school of a thousand 6th and 7th graders, Mavis was the student we talked about most in faculty meeting. It was important that Little Mavis went home happy, healthy, and looking relatively the same as she did when she left in the morning. We were instructed to be vigilant and proactive during hall, bus, and lunch duty because it was important that Mavis felt safe, physically and emotionally. We were cautioned to be particularly sensitive to the sixth-grade version of Little Mavis because this was her first time away from the nurturing environment of her elementary school. Help her open her locker. Give her a pencil. Excuse tardies for the first week or two. Don’t tease her about the small stuffed animal attached to her backpack. (Side note—sixth graders cry easier than seventh graders.)
Mavis emerged in our English Department meetings too. We English teachers can sometimes be a snobby bunch, but even though she was a fictional character, we always treated Little Mavis with sensitivity and respect. I remember during my second year suggesting an idea that I thought would save us time and effort as teachers. My wise department chair taught me a lesson I will never forget. She simply stated, “That would be easier for us, but would it best for the students?”
You see, by keeping Little Mavis continually in our consciousness, our principal established an unwritten culture in our school: Our focus is on the students. This was before No Child Left Behind and Professional Learning Communities. Intuitively, we developed own versions of Differentiated Instruction, Engaging All Learners, and Teaching for Diversity because we cared about Little Mavis. As new initiatives were introduced over the years, they resonated with me because they validated my inner belief that every student matters.
Our school never had an actual student named Mavis during my tenure, but I’ve come to realize that she is every student. One whose grandparents settled our small community as pioneers and one who only knows only two words of English. One whose mom who chases her from soccer practice to piano lessons after school and one who takes care of her siblings every night while mom is out with her boyfriend. One who is writing a novel and one who still plays with Barbies. One who often tells you that you’re her favorite teacher and one who rolls her eyes every time you ask the class to take out paper and a pencil. And we all know male versions of Mavis; I called him Bubba.
Little Mavis blessed my life, for she taught me many things about teaching as the Savior taught. Get to know your students. Ask questions. Listen. And most of all, love and care about each as an individual. Mavis and Bubba inspire all of us to be better teachers.
Written by: Annette