I love Emily Dickinson. She was reclusive, but wise; reserved, yet insightful.
One of my favorites of her poems begins with these words: Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.
Never-ceasing hope. That’s the anchor that keeps teachers from drifting into the Bermuda Triangle of today’s public school system. Teaching amidst some of society’s most troubling torrents is enough to challenge anyone’s soul, and enough to silence even the most melodic voices.
But, public educators cling to hope and remain a boisterous choir, singing the praises of every student’s potential. Even the potential of a girl named Tyanna.
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Tyanna is infamous at my school. She can pop an attitude in a second, bark without hesitation, and throw stones of insult in a heartbeat. She has a handful of blemishes on her discipline record that causes people to walk on egg-shells, never knowing what kind of mood she will present. That’s Tyanna.
She is the perfect example of what many of our students face — the battle of influence. Street vs. classroom. Family vs. teachers. Neighborhood vs. school. Friends vs. faculty. No matter the powerful positive force public school teachers have in the lives of students, their influence pales in comparison to the grip their home lives have on them. Tyanna demonstrates this imbalance.
Surrounded by high achievers, she excels. Encouraged by disciplined expectations, she rises. But put her in a group of opposites, and she morphs like a chameleon. With one group, she oozes potential; with another, she crumbles under the pressure to be bad and hard and tough.
It takes a perched hope in the soul of a teacher to see the good in Tyanna. And there is a lot of good.
Last Saturday our school hosted its annual car show. It’s a lofty undertaking, and the entire school pitches in. One major group of volunteers is our JROTC crew, under the leadership of two strong and patient men who take seriously the job of teaching character to their student cadets. As I sat at my easy job of registration, I watched one cadet in particular, Tyanna, display the depth of potential she possesses, and it made the bird of hope down in my soul flutter with a wordless tune of delight.
Up the driveway the three came — an older gentleman pushing an even older man in a wheelchair, holding the hand of a JROTC cadet. Honestly, I was shocked to see it was Tyanna. At one point, the crippled man raised her hand to his lips and gave it a little kiss. She giggled a pure giggle. As they walked slowly past, my feathered hope couldn’t help but take notice. I recognized one of those moments in a teacher’s career when the pleasantly unexpectant overrides all else.
I later asked Tyanna about the old men. She told me she was doing her JROTC duties, directing the men to handicapped parking. She watched as the younger of the two struggled to get his friend in the wheelchair, so she stepped in to help. “The old man asked if I would walk with them and if he could hold my hand, and I said, ‘OK,’” she said, nonchalantly. That was it. Nothing special in her mind.
But to me, it was that little bird in the soul that never stops singing — one time when the positive influences overcame.