Once a year I travel to a church about a half hour from my house and watch over 3rd or 4th or 8th graders as they sweat and squirm through a Pennsylvania state standardized test. As a cyber teacher, it’s one of the few times during the year I see my students in person. I’ve met many of my students in the past—at back-to-school nights, field trips, graduation—and it’s always a joyous occasion filled with laughter and stories and photo-taking. This past week at the church proved mostly the same…with one exception.
Near the end of the second day of testing, I stopped by the 8th-grade room to check the student list and see if any of mine were on it. I was happy to see several familiar names, but only one who hadn’t already left for the day—a student who’d been struggling in my class all year and was mostly non-responsive during our live sessions together. I approached him, expecting an embarrassed smile and a grunt of greeting (you’ve met an 8th grader, yes?), so I was taken aback for a moment to see his bored face transform into surprise and happiness as I approached. I knelt by his chair, and we chatted quietly about the rabbit he’d seen on the way to testing that morning and the jelly donut he’d had for breakfast. Then he leaned in and whispered, “did you get to pet the penguins?” He was referring to some pictures I’d shown in class the previous week. My eyes stung as I shook my head and smiled. Our conversation was soon cut short when his mom arrived to take him home.
As a cyber teacher, it often feels as if we’re talking into the dark. Too many of our students—faceless, silent, darkened—on one side of the computer and we, reaching out into what sometimes feels like emptiness, on the other. But as I listened to this student who’d been lost in the darkness for most of the year ask me about penguins, and now, as I remember how his face lit up when he recognized me, I am reminded of a quote from Anthony Doerr’s powerhouse of a novel, “…all of light is invisible.”
You don’t need me to tell you to go read this book, and immediately, if you haven’t already. You also don’t need me to tell you you’ll be changed by the impact of Doerr’s storytelling magic.
But I will tell you that All the Light We Cannot See reminds me that my job is to just keep going. Marie-Laure read Jules Verne into a microphone for months, never knowing who her voice might reach. Never realizing the impact of her words. Now thankfully this is not World War 2, we are not under siege in France, and I am not a blind 16-year-old girl, but the beauty of Doerr’s tale is that we understand it doesn’t matter who we are or what we’re doing. The light we cast into the darkness, out into the world, will always be invisible, until it shines through an 8th-grader’s smile.
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