I stumbled across a short poem online the other day.
Cause I ain’t got a pencil
By Joshua T. Dickerson
I woke myself up
Because we ain’t got an alarm clock
Dug in the dirty clothes basket,
Cause ain’t nobody washed my uniform
Brushed my hair and teeth in the dark,
Cause the lights ain’t on
Even got my baby sister ready
Cause my mama wasn’t home.
Got us both to school on time,
To eat us a good breakfast.
Then when I got to class the teacher fussed
Cause I ain’t got a pencil.
Despite my making a conscious effort everyday to remember that not everyone’s circumstances are the same, I still need reminding sometimes. I still need to remember some of my students will come to class without something they need simply because they just don’t have it. It isn’t always forgetfulness. It isn’t always laziness. It isn’t always defiance of the rules. Some of the time, maybe even a lot of the time, they just don’t have it. It isn’t because they don’t want to listen and it isn’t because they don’t care.
During my first year, a student asked what the house I grew up in looked like. I told everyone it was small but my parents took great care of it and made sure it always looked nice. They still do. They have lived in that house for 35 years. The student then said,
So, how big was the downstairs of your house?
I didn’t know and I hadn’t ever really thought about it.
Well, the downstairs is maybe a few feet bigger than this classroom.
My student, who is one of the funniest people I have ever known, laughed and said,
Miss. Do you know how big my whole house is? My ENTIRE house? It’s the size of this corner!
He walked over and held his arms out in a big bear hug stance and stood in the corner showing everyone that his house was as small as that space.
When we eat dinner, all our elbows touch. Me, my mama, my step dad, and my sister. Our elbows touch like this…
and he forced his elbows together in front of himself. I will miss this kid next year. He is graduating. I am so proud of him but sad for myself.
Everyone laughed watching his theatrics including me, probably more than anyone else. But, it made me think. I’ve always thought of my house as small, but to someone who didn’t have that much, that house was pretty impressive. I’ve always been proud of it because my parents spent so many hours keeping it up and making sure it was the nicest house on our street; and it was and it still is.
I didn’t really realize that I was so fortunate to have things that other people with less might really admire. I had a picture of my parents’ house on my phone. I took it before I moved to Houston three years ago so that I could look at it whenever I got homesick. I showed my students and they all replied with “whoa!” and “that’s a nice house, miss” and “look at your street! It’s like a movie street!” They were right and I hadn’t realized until they said it.
I gain little bits of perspective slowly over time. My students teach it to me; these kids with challenges I have never had to face. What I always thought was average was actually really beautiful to some of them. What I always thought was an unspoken rule – bringing a pen or pencil to all my classes – was easy for me because I had all the things I needed for school. Money was set aside for school supplies and new school clothes every year without thought and without question. Not everyone has that. Some of my students don’t have that. I hope to change it somehow.
I bring spare pens to class now.