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That's Okay

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I don't even know her name.

And yet I am certain that I see her each day.

I want to know her name. I really do. And I am quite certain that I could do a better job of learning students' names. Make more of an effort. Maybe take the yearbook home at night. Or possibly go into classrooms and play some sort of name-game. That might help me learn more of their names. So that when she passes by me in the hallway. Or gives me a hug or a high five when they enter, I could at least ...

But not only do I know his name, I know his story. I know why he is upset today, why he was upset yesterday and why he may be upset tomorrow. When he gives me a high five, or most likely a hug, it's different. Because he and I have spent many hours together. He knows about my family and I know about his. I know what song calms him down and he's heard songs that calm me down. He doesn't always like mine.

Despite the fact that I don't know her name, she always seems happy to see me. Does she notice that I don't know her name? Am I able to get away with a warm greeting and worn out joke? I sure hope so. I would hate to think that she is waiting for me to remember, or learn, her name. If I knew that was the case I would learn it right away. Put it on flashcards and be waiting at the door the next day. So that I could be the first person she sees. And I would say good morning...........how are you today? 

Here he comes. And I can see that he is angry and that this may be a tough day. I need to get to him quickly. Remind him of what we talked about yesterday. When we ate lunch together and discussed our weekends. This seems to have worked. For now. I know his mom will be checking up on him later and I really want to be able to give her a better report than yesterday.

I think it was her report card that I just proofread. I think, but I'm not sure. Five A's and one B. Wow! Why is it that I can't picture her? I've narrowed it down to three possible girls. In fact, I'm sure she'll be a name that I'll call at the end of the year when we give out awards. At least then I will be able to put a face to a name.

He's made it to lunch without any major meltdowns. I am so proud of him. Especially considering all that he has on him right now. We are definitely calling his mom. She will be so proud. Unlike yesterday, when he just couldn't keep it together. His face beams the whole time he is talking to her. Now, I just hope he can finish the day strong. I know his teacher will do all she can to see that he does.

I see her heading towards the office and I know she's not in trouble. She is leaving early for a dentist appointment. As she and her dad walk out the front door, I almost feel as if I recognize him. But I'm not sure. His face looks familiar. Maybe I'll go check the sign out sheet so that I can see if she is who I think she is.

But as I step towards the office I see that he is having a tough time. I move quickly and take him by the hand. He is not happy with me because he knows where we are headed. My office. Where he can calm down. And we can talk. Once he's ready. After a few minutes he tells me why he was so upset. I listen. To him. We've had this discussion many times. And we'll probably have it many more. I'm hopeful, but I'm also aware of the fact that he needs me.

To know his name.

And I do.

I know it well.

And he knows that.

It's taken a while. But he trusts me. Feels comfortable talking to me. Most days. Because I have taken the time to not only know his name, but his story. He needed someone to tell it to. Someone to share it with. I'm just glad that I was able to be that person.

The above piece is realistic fiction and is not based on any students or situation in particular. Having mentioned that, it is not unlike many of my days.

And you know what?

That's okay.

I began this piece frustrated. Frustrated that there are children I see everyday, whose names I do not know. That is because I spend a disproportionate amount of time working with a small number of children. Who need me. And as long as they do, I will be there.

I am no longer frustrated.

I am honored because I feel needed.

The next day I gave her a hug and asked her how her trip to the dentist went. She said it went well and that she and her dad went out to eat afterwards. I asked her if she brought me anything. She smiled and headed on to class.

He ran past me so fast that I almost didn't get to give him a hug. He promised me that he was going to have a good day. I told him I believed him. And as he was walking away I heard him say, "see you later Mr. Harper."










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Jon is currently the assistant principal in Dorchester County, Maryland. This is his seventh year serving as an assistant principal at the elementary level. Prior to becoming an administrator he served as a Math Coach and an elementary school teacher. During his ten years as a classroom teacher he taught first, second, fourth and fifth grades. During his sixth year teaching he earned Nationally Board Certification, which he held for ten years. For seven years he ran a Young Gentleman's Club that was aimed at helping young men reach their full potential.  

Jon received a B.A. from Furman University while majoring in Philosophy. He later went on to earn his B.S from Salisbury University while majoring in Elementary Education. Jon was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to student teach in New Zealand. He eventually received his M.A. degree from Salisbury University in Public School Administration.

Jon lives in Cambridge, Maryland with his amazing wife and two awesome children.

  • Errol St.Clair Smith
    Errol St.Clair Smith Saturday, 09 April 2016

    So this piece is interesting to me on a couple of levels:

    I get the sentiment and have felt this way in various situations. Most of mine involve adults who typically understand that remembering *all* the names of every person you meet at a picnic, party or education conference is unlikely. Most are forgiving when you say, "I'm sorry I forgot your name."

    But how do kids feel when they see YOU every day and know who YOU are, but you don't know them? Do kids understand how challenging it would be for you to know all the names of every student in a large school? Do they naturally forgive as adults typically do?

    Though knowing every child by name would be awesome, is it a reasonable expectation to put on yourself or others in your position?

    I often wonder how much stress educators shoulder on the basis of idealism. I'm certainly not an ideal dad, husband or friend every day. I've forgotten more than my share of details from birthdays to anniversaries. Certainly these details are important and remembering a name is a big one, but my gut tells me that at a deeper, intuitive, more meaningful level all people can tell whether or not they matter to you. It's look, a tone, a willingness to recognize their presence and listen to whatever they are bringing to the moment. Names matter, but I think the non-verbal cues matter more in relationships. Thoughts?

  • Guest
    Ben Gilpin Sunday, 10 April 2016


    Your fiction pieces are excellent and always leaving me wanting to read more! You've got a talent for being a great storyteller.

    As for this situation, I firmly believe our students desire to be "known." Kids do not want to be a number or just another face. The young lady in your piece sounds like a sweet girl with a solid upbringing. She wants to be known, but she is likely showered with other positives during her day. This makes having you know her name a bit less of a priority. The young man does not get the same accolades and hence he needs you to know him and his story.

    But lets not be fooled, people want to be known. When you remember a name and greet a person with it, that speaks volumes to the individual. It tells them they matter.

    Thanks for the share,


  • Errol St.Clair Smith
    Errol St.Clair Smith Tuesday, 12 April 2016

    I agree with your point, Ben. "People want to be known." I also agree that "when you remember a name and greet a person with it, that speaks volumes to the individual." I suspect that anyone who works with people knows that your point is true and would not be fooled into thinking otherwise.

    I experienced this truth as a student. Up until 7th grade, I went to small private schools, where all the adults knew my name. I didn't realize how much it mattered until I went to a public school middle school. I found myself in much larger classes feeling anonymous and insignificant. It mattered, and my grades showed it. So yes, I fundamentally agree with you.

    That said, I'm relentlessly pursuing deeper understanding. My observation is that we often accept "general principles" as "absolute truth." The consequence is that we regularly overlook nuances that matter.

    I hear Jon's torment about not being able to know every single student by name. The question is, what should be done at the intersection of idealism and reality. If we don't explore the nuanced question then some educator, somewhere gets the message that if you don't know the names of all 2,000 students in your school you're failing at your job. Is that a good thing?

    Starr Sackstein made a relevant point on one of your shows. She said, "there aren't enough people who are honest and truthful about what their experiences are as educators. New folks get a very unbalanced view of what it's really like in our field."

    Jon was transparent about his concerns. I suspect he's not alone. It seems to me that balance means acknowledging that "people want to be known" *and* that Knowing all students isn't always achievable. I think this balanced perspective opens the door to new and creative solutions. Jon mentioned:

    "Maybe take the yearbook home at night. Or possibly go into classrooms and play some sort of name-game. That might help me learn more of their names."

    This may be reasonable in a small school, but what about a school with thousands
    of kids?

    As you know, I love the theme of your show "digging deeper." I think the value of digging deeper is realized when we think beyond accepted truth, then turn that thinking into actionable, creative solutions.

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