As the yearbook sponsor, I often get wind of neat events happening in classrooms. Dissecting a pig. Building a club house. Conducting a fancy science experiment.
On this particular day, I was invited to snap some photos of our automotive class repairing a transmission.
With camera in hand, I bolted out the door and was hit immediately with a cold blast. It was chilly outside the automotive shop, and I was coatless and ill-prepared, but undeterred.
As I tried to silence the chattering of my teeth and calm the shivers of my chilled bones, I met the eyes of one of my students -- let's call him Jarvis.
Jarvis was what one might call a hard kid. He seldom spoke or acknowledged my presence. Typically, he was slouched in the back row, not motivated to misbehave, but also not motivated to do work, either.
I smiled and waved, and that afternoon in the chilly air, he smiled back.
I took a few pictures and lowered the camera to see Jarvis walking towards me. Very quietly, he asked, "You cold, Ms. Green?"
I tried to conceal my shock that he spoke to me and answered, "It's freezing out here! How do you guys work in this cold?" He placed both hands in his sagging jeans and remarked, "You get used to it."
"No way. Not me," I said and went back to snapping pictures.
A tap on the shoulder drew my eyes from the camera. Jarvis was taking off his jacket. Offering it to me, he said, "Here, Ms. Green, take my coat." I refused at first, but he insisted. Reluctantly, I accepted.
I put one arm in the sleeve and swung the jacket across my back. I put my other arm in, but it went through a rip in the armpit.
I withdrew my arm and tried again, meeting another tear at the elbow.
He recognized my struggle, and said, "You kinda gotta look for the hole."
The third attempt was a success.
At one point, I placed my chilled hands in the pockets of Jarvis's jacket, only to meet the cold air through more holes.
I think now about the cliché, "You don't really know a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes." In this case, I had no clue about this teenage boy without taking a few yearbook pictures in his ripped jacket.
My mind races, thinking about his home life. His situation. His closet. His house. His dinner table.
All of my lofty ideas about who I am as a teacher and what role I play in the lives of my kids comes into question.
We as teachers never really know what's going on in the jackets of the children we teach.
On the outside, they may appear nice and clean and cozy.
The lining of their lives may appear perfectly intact, insulating them from a cold, mean world.
But on the inside, their jacket might be ripped up. On the inside, it may be dirty and absent of anything resembling warmth and security.
Finding the hole may be a daily fight for our students.
I've never had to search for the armhole of my jacket.
I've always been blessed with sleeves that work -- always been lined with comfort and security.
So, when I am faced with teaching hard kids who have no insulation from the harsh world, I can understand why English class is not their sole priority.
For me, for us, we simply must take the time to put on their jackets.
Sheryl Green is an independent contractor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org