I have been very fortunate in my life, not just because I have never known what it is like to feel impoverished, but also because I wasn't raised in ignorance of it. One of the greatest skills I was ever taught from my school, church, and family was having empathy, not pity, for others. Charity, and not just in the form of "things", was important and still is an important part of my life.
However, as empathetic and understanding as I may think I am, nothing would prepare me for what I would learn from being a student teacher in an impoverished area of the state. Now my student teaching experience wasn't exactly "optimum," but I was teaching Principles of Technology to 7th & 8th graders. This is technically a Vocational Ed class, and a redesign of "Woodshop." It was a hard group, but slowly I began to reach them. The best thing I ever did was agree to help coach the girl's softball team. As an avid player, this was an easy decision, but what I didn't realize was how it would make me connect with my students more than anything. Few parents could make it to the games, since they were right after school, and we had a special activity bus to take all the kids home after games.
My parents has always been so supportive of my after school activities. I can hardly remember a home game that was not attended by some member of my family. I felt so bad for my players, that their families couldn't come see them. I had one player in particular that took it hard, and one day missed the bus to take her home. So I broke the rules and drove her home in my car. Little was I prepared for her neighborhood or her home. She had to hurry in to make dinner for her 9 brothers and sisters, and didn't invite me in.
But I learned something that day. Not to pity her because of her surroundings, but to celebrate her for persevering. That she could be happy and find joy. That was eye opening for me. There are a few students and experiences I will never forget, and I will forever be grateful about what she taught me about enjoying life.