- There was nothing remarkable about her. Her older brother was another story. Everybody knew him. They came from a neighboring school district and he brought his bad reputation with him. Just the mention of his name was enough to bring a grimace to even a seasoned teacher's face. Nearly every adult in the school knew who he was because of his notorious antics. I think only her classroom teacher, the counselor and I knew Ashley's name. The specials (art,music and PE) teachers even drew blanks when we mentioned her. Ironically, I can't seem to remember brother's name no matter how hard I try.
Ashley was in 3rd grade. She was usually at school and her grades were average, maybe a little below. Ashley was slender, very fair and had long red hair. While the counselor, wise in the ways of the county, suspected, none of us realized what Ashley faced when she went home until one morning in early spring. We got a phone from the local authorities alerting us. As the day went on the story unfolded. In the meantime, Ashley's teacher was called in for a short, but critical, chat, then the counselor and I went out to wait for Ashley's bus to arrive.
When the bus arrived, to the driver and the other students, there was nothing different about the day. Ashley seemed surprised to see the counselor and me as she stepped off the school bus. My counselor, Cindy, was/is an amazing woman who not only knew the ways of the county, she also knew many of the families of students. Having suspected what Ashley's home life was like,she had already begun building a relationship with her. As soon as Ashley saw Cindy, she fell into Cindy's arms and held onto her for dear life.
Due to FERPA, only the slightest information, plus what Ashley chose to share helped us to get a picture of her morning. At that time, northeast Missouri had a reputation for production and use of 'meth'. Ashley's mom was a user, at least. Many children hug or kiss their moms goodbye just before getting on the bus. Ashley left the house with mom spread-eagle against the wall with the SWAT team guarding her.
Another example of the student teaching the teacher, or the principal. This seemingly frail young girl had inner strength and perserverance that empowered her to attend school and focus on assignments when many of us, me for example, would be a puddle of tears or a gale force screaming tirade. But there she was, keeping her eyes on what she could control and accomplish. I shall never forget Ashley's face that day reminding me of something Mama told me over twenty years earlier, 'Sometimes you just have to stand there and take it.' Ashley taught me that you can just stand there and take it with grace.
During my years in public education, no matter where the school district, 16th poorest in the state, bedroom community, urban, or affluent suburb, there usually are students with certain traits. You know, class clown, class bully, class diva. Think about one of your classes, or one of your kids's classes. By the end of that first short week of school you know who they are. Sadly, I have learned that there is also typically an Ashley. Sadder still, teachers don't always know, for a myriad of reasons. The Ashleys come in all shapes and sizes, and personalities so they can be difficult to spot. And guess what, Ashleys grow up. They go to work. They have homes. There may be an Ashley you see, or maybe speak to everyday.
How do you show mercy, or empathy, to someone who may be suffering in silence? If you are the one in pain, how can you reach out to those around you for support?
Teach me to feel another's woe, to hide the fault I see, that mercy I to others show, that mercy show to me.