Don't tell me I can't - A Testament to a Student’s Perseverance
Jayne Smith was a really special student; this is a testament to her perseverance. She was waiting for me before class began hugging her books close to her chest. “Can I talk to you Mrs. Nelson? I think I want to take your class next semester but I dunno. I failed this English class before. The teacher and me, we just didn’t get along.”
She paused, “I remember you from the TV”. She laughed, one of those robust laughs that come as much from self-consciousness as humor. She asked if she could sit in my class. I told her she could, and Jayne Smith was on my roster at Daytona Beach Community College the next semester.
The first day I told students that this was not remedial English. “No, this is a class to learn academic English. Think of it as a challenging game,” I told them. “Whether you win or lose says nothing about you as a person.” Jayne was not typical of the other students: housewives returning to school after raising families, young adults working minimum wage jobs. What I saw in their eyes was frustration, fear, timidity.
I never saw that in Jayne Smith’s eyes. Instead I saw optimism, a “can do, come hell or high water” attitude. Jayne was developmentally disabled; other students were not. Jayne’s voice was always an octave higher than theirs and sometimes shrill. They sometimes cast sidelong looks at her, and shook their heads. Jayne scored 32 on her first test, but said, “I’m going to do it Mrs. Nelson. Jayne studied every night. She brought me lists of Web sites offering tutorial help in writing. She spent hours doing homework. She flunked essay tests. I wrote copious notes on her essay. Structure! I need details, Jayne! She scored 40 on her next grammar test. Other students in the class who had failed the test moaned: “I never should have taken the class.” Jayne was ecstatic. “I scored 10 points higher than last time.”
Jayne suffered setbacks, taunts and humiliations. She started a club for the developmentally disabled. “It’s a club for everybody: she told me. “All the students should know about us.” Only one other person showed up, but Jayne continued to post upcoming meetings. Jayne failed the final state grammar test. She could not pass my class. The last day of class she told me about her upcoming trip to Atlantic City. She was proud to be taking the train ride alone.
“But I’ll see you next semester, Mrs. Nelson. I’m going to pass. You wait and see!” Several weeks ago I found a note in my campus mailbox. “I love you. You are my favorite teacher. See you next semester!” It was written in Jayne’s big, childlike script. She had enclosed a key chain from Atlantic City.
Jayne Smith will not be in my class next semester. She was killed in an auto accident last week. I can’t think of Jayne without tears streaming down my face. I will not forget you, Jayne. Many others whose lives; you touched will not forget you either. Some might say you were missing something that others of us possessed; the truth is you possessed something we often lack. You are a testament to courage, to human spirit, to raw determination. You loved life more than anyone else I know. I am sorry I never had a chance to tell you that you missed passing the final by only a few points. You did it, lady!
A light went out on Daytona Beach’s West Campus this week. Thank you, Jayne, for what you gave us. You will be missed.
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