I was the student who sat in that back corner, which the light from the window leaves in shadows. I was the student whose 12-year report card could be summarized as “satisfactory” or “works below ability.” I caused you no real trouble: I did not talk much, did not pull the hair of the girl in front of me, did not complain about a bad grade.
It is myself that I look for now as I stand before my English classes, a high school teacher who managed somehow, after years, to find his way. I know the frustration of teaching students like the one I was. I realize how easy it must have been for my teachers to let me stay in the corner where I caused no trouble. How easy it must have been for them not to involve their psychic energies in my failure. So, before I give in to that fatalistic attitude of “He’s made his decision, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” I ask myself to do what I now ask you to do: Give it one more shot, look at it from one more angle, try one more time to understand why that student will not give himself a chance.
I ask you to do this because those of you who did it for me made a difference. Maybe not at the precise moment you had me in class, but later. When I was ready, all of your words, your encouragements, came back to me, as though they had been stored up to use when I needed them.
I suppose I am talking to myself here as much as to you. For if I am to help my students the way some of you helped me, I must remember who I was as a student; I must remember everything, honestly. All of us must remind ourselves that kids do not blossom at the same time the way the buds do each spring on the apple tree in my back yard. But this does not mean that they do not need our care and encouragement. Out there is a student, the student I once was, who needs your light, who secretly, despite his public resistance, thirsts for your attention, who, if you talk with him just one more time, may grow into someone useful, grateful, even excellent.
A version of this article appeared in the September 29, 1982 edition of Education Week as One More Shot