Matt said he would never finish high school, but he did.
Katie said she just didn’t understand anything at all about geometry. But she passed her end-of-year exam with a B-.
Alejandro said he couldn’t read, but his seventh grade teacher told him she’d help him learn. And he read 22 books his seventh-grade year.
Elisa said she was too clumsy to make the basketball team. But her coach said she just needed practice and she made sure Elisa had a lot of time on the court and Elisa made the team and then made it off the bench and made the winning points that last game of her junior year.
Marcus said he didn’t have anything to say, so he put down his pen and then put down his head. But one teacher told him every day for twenty days in a row that she thought Marcus had much to say. And finally Marcus wrote about his dad who “swished through his life like a basketball swishes through a net. Silent but counting just the same.”
Jayson was afraid of recess because he had no one who would play with him. So Ms. Olson wore her tennis shoes and asked him to play tag with her. Every day. And on the seventh day, all the kids who had joined them now wanted Jayson to play with them.
Mr. Johnson gives his band kids his phone number “so if you end up needing help at any time and for any reason you can call me.”
Ms. Everett meets kids the night before big unit tests at Starbucks to help anyone who shows up.
Mrs. Allen always keeps a loaf of bread and and a jar of peanut butter in her desk drawer. Help yourself whenever you’re hungry. And yes, of course you should take an extra sandwich home.
Darien said school was dumb. School was boring. School was really, really stupid. He said it over and over to anyone and everyone. Then one day, he yelled at his teacher and said she was dumb and boring and really, really stupid. And the teacher put her arm around him and said, “Well, what I really need is your help. Could you help me figure out why this class isn’t working? Could you help me make it better?” And he stood there shocked and said, “Aren’t you going to send me to the principal’s office?” And she said, “Nope. I want you to stay here and help me.” And so he stayed. And little by little Darien shared how scared he was of everything because everything was just so hard. “I can’t do it,” he kept saying. “You can’t do it yet,” she would reply.
That’s what teachers do. They add the word “yet” giving kids confidence when kids don’t have it—yet. Teachers are hope whisperers.
Every day, even though kids often don’t show it, they enter our nation’s classrooms full of hope. Hope that they’ll do better, hope that they’ll be liked, hope that they’ll both stand out and fit in, hope that no one will discover what hurts at home, hope that someone will discover what hurts at home, and underneath it all—the swagger of the senior and the defiance of the eighth grader and the can’t sit still hopping up and down waving my hand for the teacher to call on me second grader—is the hope that my teacher will like me. It only takes one to whisper hope in an ear. One teacher. One gentle reminder that what you can’t do, you simply can’t do yet.