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Fame can be Fickle

By Marilyn Barnard

“Brandon” was a little kid that we had way back in 3rd grade. I say WE because he literally belonged to the whole school. He spent most of his time in the SpEd classes and was mainstreamed for only short periods. Since we had grade-leveled schools, it was my first encounter with him, but I have never seen a building of students so protective of anyone.

Since that 3rd grade year, I moved to the junior high and had the opportunity to teach some of those students again. As a part of our goal-setting curriculum, we periodically had a motivational speaker scheduled to talk to an assembly of our students. This particular speaker was dynamic, energetic, and enthusiastic, and the students hung on her every word. She described her poor, disadvantaged beginning in a neighborhood that would typically breed failure, and outlined her road to success. They loved her! At the end of her speech, she took questions from the audience, and handed each inquirer a memento in the form of a cap, t-shirt, etc.

She had no way of knowing anything about Brandon nor of his limitations. Like the other students, he was caught up in the enthusiasm and wildly waving his arms to be recognized. She called on him …Of course she didn’t realize his problem, and when he asked her his off-the-wall question which had nothing to do with anything pertinent, she gave him a sharp answer, and didn’t reward him with anything.

Believe me. You have never seen an audience turn on a speaker so fast. She literally went from cheers to jeers in seconds… and getting the students out of the gym and calmed from their irate state was a monumental task. I don’t know how many of them who had gained a “prize” by asking a question went by the office and left their memento for Brandon…they just didn’t want it any more. The principal did explain to the speaker what had happened and she promised to send a special package for Brandon. She did, eventually, but it took her almost 3 months.

People often shrink in fear at the thought of teaching in junior high, and there are challenging moments, but many times, mixed in with their cut-downs and silly moods, I’ve witnessed their softer side of compassion and caring. The speaker had some important things to present to the students that day about believing in themselves and visualizing success is possible, but I think the lesson she taught by her actions was bigger than the one she brought with her. Because of her treatment toward Brandon, the gymnasium full of students turned on her in a heartbeat. I hope she learned something from our students. I hope she learned that you never become too important to give every child his fair chance; at least that’s the lesson our students took home.

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