Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Student as Teacher: Students Can Rise above the Circumstances of Their Lives and Unexpectedly Teach Lessons about Themselves and about Life

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Student as Teacher: Students Can Rise above the Circumstances of Their Lives and Unexpectedly Teach Lessons about Themselves and about Life

Article excerpt

Despair was the topic under discussion as my freshman English students were doing presentations on Elie Wiesel's memoir Night.

As students were presenting their slide decks and sharing quotes from the book that dealt with despair, we heard a voice from outside the classroom. "No, no, no," the voice said. Our classroom is near a self-contained classroom for students who have significant social and emotional disabilities.

As the "no, no, no" continued, I interrupted f the presenting students and spoke about the obvious and sad conjunction between text and life: We were hearing the voice of despair nearby discussing the despair of Wiesel during his imprisonment.

I added my words of pretty easy reassurance and told students that this despairing young man was safe. His problems were significant, I said, but I reassured them that he was with a caring teacher who was doing her best to support him.

The "no, no, no's" continued, painfully, at intervals, but most of the students resumed their presentation.

Suddenly, however, Antonio (not his real name) said, "I got to see that kid." He promptly got up and left the room.

Antonio returned to class a few minutes later, and I realized that he had left to help the student we had all been hearing but were hearing no longer. I asked students to think about the idea of despair and about what Antonio had just done.

Students were silent so I turned to Antonio and asked him why he had left. "That kid just needed someone to hold his hand for awhile to calm down. It's not right, it's not right," he said.

I found myself without words. Antonio is a stocky, taciturn, Mexican-American student. He just announced in front of the entire class that he had gone and held the hand of a troubled, male student who was about his own age. Antonio was always appropriate in class but rarely, if ever, contributed much or did his assigned work. Nothing about him obviously suggested the kind of tenderness, compassion, and bravery this action demonstrated.

Here was a teachable moment. We talked about what Antonio had done in the face of being aware of someone's despair. …

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