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Shaundalyn Elliott's Diary
The First 180 Days

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Shaundalyn Elliott, a recent college graduate, always dreamed of being a corporate lawyer. Her deep feelings of responsibility to the minority students in her hometown led her instead to a teaching position at her alma mater, an urban middle school in Montgomery, Alabama. Each week during this school year -- Shaundalyn's first year in the classroom -- she will share with Education World readers her thoughts and feelings about her first 180 days!

Shaundalyn's Diary: 'That Was Then, This Is Now!'

Week 5

A lot happened last week.

I entered my classroom Monday feeling completely depressed and irritable, but the moment I saw my first student, the feeling left me. The sudden change surprised me, and I was left wondering how my feelings could change so quickly. It was as though hearing that student say "Good morning, Ms. Elliott" had given me newfound hope.

A few days later, one of my students came into the room with a peculiar look on her face and a note from one of her friends in her hand. The moment I noticed the note, I went to confiscate it, but she looked so disgusted that I simply gave it back to her and told her to put it away. Then, a few minutes into the period, she started to cover her face, and I noticed her eyes were bloodshot red from tears. "Girl, what's the matter?" I asked. "Nothing," she said -- in such a sad voice that I invited her to step outside the classroom to talk with me. Reluctantly, she agreed.

When we got outside, her story and her tears erupted almost immediately. She told me that she might have to have surgery on her knee and that her grandmother had had a heart attack the night before. Before she could complete the story, she broke down again. I realized that I had to draw upon my mother instinct and my own experiences to help her. I told her that unexpected things happen in all of our lives and that the way in which we approach these unfortunate circumstances can make us stronger. I continued to console her by saying something that I was afraid could get me in trouble -- I suggested that she pray and told her that I would pray for her. Right or wrong, it seemed to be the correct decision, because for the rest of the period, she smiled as though she were at peace.

On Friday, I intended to leave as soon as the bell rang, but somehow I got sidetracked. When I finally did make it to the office, I ran into the mother of one of my students. The child, who has a severe stomach infection, has missed the first three weeks of school. His mother has been making weekly trips to school to meet with her son's principal, teachers, and counselors. That day, however, when I playfully asked "How are you and how is my man?" she burst into tears. I grabbed her hand and took her out of the office to encourage her. We cried together for a couple of minutes, and when we finally composed ourselves, I encouraged her by saying that this experience would make her son a stronger individual. "When he pulls through," I told her, "he'll marvel at how wonderful God really is." Well, I'd done it again! I'd involved God in another person's life. But once again, I thought it was necessary.

When the child's mother left, I got into my car and cried uncontrollably. I hurt tremendously for my student, but most of all I hurt for his mother. I also wondered what would have happened if I had decided to leave the teaching profession last week. Who would this mother have turned to? And what about my student? Would she still be upset about her grandmother and her knee if I had not been there?

A week ago, I wanted a sign that I was supposed to be a teacher. I needed to be sure. It is safe to say that I now have my answer. Apart from everything else that happened this week, I received my first gifts from students: two purple pens (they know purple is my favorite color!), a package of sugar wafers, and a poem. I received my answer threefold!

Last week, I was certain that I would not be returning to the teaching profession next year, but in the words of S. E. Hinton's bestseller, "That was then, this is now."

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Shaundalyn Elliot
Education World®
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09/28/2000