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See What You Can Do With That One

Title – See What You Can Do With That One

By – Lanette Smith

It had been a long, hard week, full of decision making. There was a new job open in my district. The qualifications were clearly outlined. I had been a classroom teacher for nine years. With the new pressure of state testing, the worries over if my students’ scores were low, fretting over not having the materials I needed to teach some of the standards, discouraged peers, constant worries over student achievement, students with a range of problems, the new position open in the district began to appeal to me.

I hesitantly read the qualifications and mentally checked them off. I could apply. And the salary! It would be over a $10,000 a year increase! With my daughter going to college in a couple of years, it just seemed to be an opportunity I couldn’t afford to pass up. I timidly told my closest friends that I was considering applying. leaving my classroom. It was a classroom that had my signature all over it. There was one rosy pink wall to focus attention to the front of the room, two bouncy beige sofas for reading, and screaming from its place by the window, a table filled with old bones, seashells from the beach, dead leaves, tree rings, and various collections. Sharing the ceiling with poetry hangers was a green plastic basket easily containing the hesitant growth of a parent-donated vine. Books peeked out from every corner and student work was displayed in every available space. This was my home away from home. A home I shared with nineteen students. Could I leave it? Should I leave it?

I traveled with my church youth group to camp the following weekend. As the excited bunch of teenagers headed for a ropes course, I cringed at the sight of a Marine wall. It was the kind on TV advertisements where the muscular, fatigue-clad strappingly healthy young man bounds up and over it as we at home sit watching in awe of him. That was the wall in front of me. The stronger, confident boys emulated the young Marine perfectly…up and over…up and over. The young ladies and the rest of the young men stood there. Silently, in my mind, I knew that I had to do it. I had to climb the wall. It would be my test. If I could climb that wall, that would be my sign to apply for the job and a sure sign that I would give the most wonderful answers in the interview. I would be working with adults. I would prepare lessons that impressed them all. They would be motivated. I would be so proud. Someone would say, “Thanks for going the extra mile. Thanks for doing a good job.” I would get pats on the back and I would be so appreciated!!! So, spurred on by my own challenge I headed up the wall. I stepped on the shoulders of the youth on the ground. I dug my toes into the vertical, wooden logs. I got tickled. I laughed. I climbed. I laughed. I climbed. I laughed. I laughed. I laughed. From the top, a hand reached down and found my back pocket and began to pull. I threw my left leg up to the top of the wall. A young hand grabbed it. With assistance, over I went. The group cheered. I laughed some more. I had made it. I would interview for the job.

The coming days found me back at school. Unfortunately, after I filled out all of the paperwork and began to prepare for the interview, I found out that I didn’t really have a chance. Other people had been personally recruited by the administrators who would be hiring. To say I was disappointed would be the mother of all understatements! After all, I had climbed the wall.

Thinking about the turn of events, I headed off to school the next morning. Getting into the car, I realized that my husband had left my daughter’s keys in my car. I got out of the car and took the keys back into the house. I would surely be late for school. I returned to the car. Realizing that I’d left my school papers inside the house, I again went back inside. Oh, I felt so disgusted. Finally, I was off. Why did these things always have to happen to me?

Two miles down the road I saw it. . . a wreck. An aged brown sedan sat crossways in the road. A large black truck sat just beyond it. A shattered back window and a crushed rear fender told the story. My eyes were drawn downward. In the road lay a book bag. It was a black shiny book bag, with plastic pink flowers adorning the front panel. I had to stop. The kids on this road belong to me. They go to my school. “Where are the children?” I asked an onlooker. “They’ve gone inside that trailer.”

Without any hesitation, I instinctively headed for them. Opening the door, I saw a small girl staring at her daddy and sister who were seated on the couch. I picked her up, held her close, and began to talk to her gently. The woman of the house, upset by all of the screaming coming from the other child sharply commanded, “See what you can do with that one.”

That one’s face was covered in blood. I didn’t think I knew her. Wiping the blood from her face and attempting to apply a compress to her cuts, I asked, “Honey, what’s your name?” She didn’t answer. Her father did. “That’s Tasha,” he softly stated. “Tasha?” I echoed in my mind. I talked to Tasha every day. She was in the room across the hall, and I knew her well. I put my arm around her and pulled her to me. “Tasha sweetie. You’ll be all right. Remember when the ambulance visited our school and we met some of the paramedics. They’ll be here in just a minute to take care of you. I’ll be right here with you. What a story you’ll have to tell your friends.” On and on I went, saying the things a third grader would want to hear. Her screaming stilled. She uttered small sounds of pain, but rested against my chest.

Soon the ambulance came. Tasha required surgery. Her father was put into a neck brace. And the whole family took days of rest to get over the soreness.

I saw Tasha’s face over and over in my mind. And the words of that woman in the trailer returned to haunt me. “See what you can do with that one. See what you can do with that one.” With that one simple command, that woman resurrected in me a desire that first brought me into teaching at the age of 32.

It was a desire to “see what I can do with the children in my town.” I wanted to be a part of them getting a good education. I wanted to be a part of them knowing how to dream and in planning steps to make those dreams come true. I wanted to be a classroom teacher…a hero.

The overwhelming desire to leave behind the burdens of educating nineteen third grade students suddenly seemed to disappear. I saw my daily teaching duties like burdens no more, but once again as privileges. I was awakened from a fitful state by a command, “See what you can do with that one.”


Lanette Smith

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