You watched me enter your classroom like any other student. You greeted me with a warm smile and a caring look. You asked me to have a seat. I heard you speak words I didn’t understand. I watched as the other students raised their hands to question what you said. I sat in the cold chair; the minutes felt like hours. I heard you call my name. I waited for you to ask who I was.
You don’t know what it took for me to get here this morning. You don’t know how it feels to wake up in the dark, or the fear that I have in my heart, waiting for the bus. You don’t know that I don’t have an umbrella or why my clothes are wet and disheveled when I enter your class. You think I can’t feel your disappointment in me. You don’t know that despite my appearance, my color, my imperfections, I choose to look past your stare.
You probably wonder why I stare at you as you eat in front of the class. You don’t know that I didn’t have enough change in my pocket for breakfast this morning, or that last night’s cold dinner was from the dumpster outside that fancy restaurant, the one near the bridge where we sleep.
You don’t know why I come to your class tired or how uncomfortable it is for three people to sleep in a car, to sleep with one eye open, just in case.
You don’t know how lucky I feel that we have a car.
You don’t know that I am listening, that I care, that I am grateful for the opportunity to learn.
You don’t know the courage it takes for me to raise my hand to answer your questions. You don’t know how they ridiculed me for the way I speak the last time I was in a classroom.
You don’t know that in your classroom I feel like the luckiest person in the world.
A version of this article appeared in the September 19, 2012 edition of Education Week as You Don’t Know Me