K is the kind of student every teacher wishes they had. Smart, quiet, well-behaved–she is all of those.
But on this particular day something was wrong. It wasn’t easily noticeable. She’s not the kind to jump out of her seat or wander the room or talk to her neighbor. No, her actions were more subtle than that. K was still in her seat. She had her book out on her desk to read. Her book was even open and right-side up, which is more than I can say for a few other kids.
But she wasn’t reading.
When I asked her what was wrong, her worries spilled out. K had been to the dentist and had cavities and she had never had a cavity before AND HER APPOINTMENT WAS TODAY AFTER SCHOOL.
The Department of Education, the Gates Foundation, and probably my own principal would chastise me (and K) for the waste of instructional time that day. But see, here’s the thing. I teach children, not widgets. Children who love to read and children who don’t; children whose first language is English and children whose native language is one of many in my classroom. Children who aren’t worried about a trip to the dentist and children who are terrified of the noisy drill.
When K is asked about her day, she probably won’t remember the stories I read to the class or what she had for lunch.
But I hope she remembers the reassurances I gave her that it’s noisy but not painful to get a cavity filled. I hope she remembers that her teacher survived those trips to the dentist and she will too.
And I hope that someday we live in a world where that isn’t considered a “waste of instructional time.”