Gem of the Week: Sam*

*Perhaps the Gem of the Week will turn into a series. Sam is a fictional name for a real person.

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I “met” Sam last year after seeing him regularly walking or running in the hallways during class periods. He’s what I affectionately call a “hall walker”. A hall walker is not a student who regularly asks for a pass to go to the bathroom or even one who is routinely late. No, a hall walker is a student who appears to spend at least as much class time in the hallway or the office as she does in her actual classroom. Hall walkers are clever; they have somehow managed to convince a number of authority figures at a variety of different times that they have legitimate reasons for being in the hallway.

I was aware of Sam, who last year was a junior, even though he was not assigned to my classroom. I didn’t know his name, but I was familiar with his face and the red jacket that he wore almost every day. Because my student rosters are mostly full of seniors, it is the exceptional underclassman who falls onto my radar, and when I say ‘exceptional’ in this context, it is not always a compliment.

One day, last winter, I was in the hallway on my lunch period, and I saw Sam, red jacket and all, flying down the hallway, away from a staff member who was asking him to come back. I overheard Sam call the staff member an expletive right before he slid back into his classroom.

I took note.

I did not track him down in the moment because he was finally where he was supposed to be, but I logged the interaction and determined to find out the student’s name.

It wasn’t the last time I saw such an interaction. Sam seemed to have a default emotion of “pissed”, as several of our students do, and for good reason. I didn’t know the whole story, but I knew there probably was one.

On one occasion, I happened to be walking down the hall side by side with Sam, and I spoke to him, calling him by name.

“You know my name?” he said.

“Yes. Do you know mine?” I asked.

“No.”

“I’m Mrs. Rathje. What grade are you in?”

“I’m a junior. How do you know my name?”

“Well, usually, if you’re not a senior and I know your name, it’s probably because you’re a hall walker.”

“Whatchu mean? I’m not a hall walker.”

“Well, I see you in the hall a lot.”

“That’s not me.”

“I’m pretty sure it is.”

And then we were no longer walking together.

But I saw him often throughout last school year. He was usually not where he was supposed to be, and he was usually running his mouth, stirring up negativity, as one does. I made a point to speak to him when I had opportunity.

“How’s it going, Sam?”

I didn’t always get a response.

But then, on the night of the Senior Pinning last May, when all of our seniors come dressed to the nines, and their parents stand next to them and “pin” them to show that they are nearly there, I walked into the hall, to find Sam, dressed in his red jacket, hovering near the registration table.

“Hey, Sam,” I said.

“Hey,” he said, but he looked different. He looked timid. He hovered near one of the senior sponsors, and waited for her instructions. He carried in boxes, he ran errands, he watched everything.

Our seniors strutted in, suited and heeled, hair freshly done, and shoes at high polish.

Sam stood to the side and watched, eyes wide, mouth closed.

A couple weeks later, he stepped into my room for the first time. I was between classes, and I looked up.

“Hey, Sam, what’s up?”

“Is your class hard?” he asked.

“No, I wouldn’t say it’s hard. Why?”

“Everyone says it’s hard.”

“I can’t imagine why. Everything is spelled out. You just have to follow directions. It’s no big deal. You worried?”

“Yeah. I’m a little worried.”

“You’ll be fine. You’re pretty bright — you have to be — you’re a hall walker.”

“I’m not hall walker.”

“Ok.”

The summer passed, and a couple weeks ago, we had our back to school open house. Who did I see first? Sam.

“Hey, Sam! Welcome back,” I said. “I hear you are in the dual-credit class that is going to Lawrence Tech twice a week. That’s amazing!”

“I ain’t doing that.”

“Well, you’re on the roster. It’s quite a privilege to go to college during high school. Only the brightest seniors get to go.”

“I ain’t doing it.”

“Ok.”

On the second day of class last week, I saw Sam again. He was visibly upset. He seriously did not want to go to Lawrence Tech twice a week. He didn’t think he would like it, and he didn’t want to be stuck there for his whole senior year if he hated it.

Two teachers were already speaking to him, but he was not budging.

“I ain’t going. I don’t want to go to college.”

“Sam,” I said, “you’re deciding that you don’t like it before you even get there. I can promise you, it’s a whole new world out there. You have to at least give it a try. You’re going to get to leave school twice a week — not everybody gets to do that. You were hand picked because we know you can do it.”

“I don’t want to do it.”

“Just go. Give it a chance.”

Other teachers continued the conversation, but he seemed resolute. He was not planning to go.

On Friday, I saw the small group of seniors — just 12 of them — as they got ready to get on the bus to go to their orientation. I looked at the group and said, “Have fun, guys! You’re gonna love it!” They were all clumped together.

I didn’t see Sam.

A few hours later, I found myself walking down the hall, in step with — Sam.

“Mrs. Rathje, I got my college ID!” he said smiling as he pulled it out of his pocket.

“You went! I knew you would love it!”

“Well, we ain’t been to the class yet. I probably ain’t going to like it.”

“But you got an ID! You’re on your way! I’m telling you — you’re going to love it. It’s a whole different world out there. I’m proud of you for going.”

“Thanks.”

Yup. Sam the hall walker said “thanks”.

He’s in my first hour class along with all the other kids who are going to Lawrence Tech twice a week. He sits in the back because that’s where he feels comfortable. He can’t see the board because he needs glasses, so he takes out his phone, takes a picture of my screen and blows it up to read it.

I walk near him, tap him on the shoulder and say, “Great use of your phone, Sam. Way to get what you need.”

We’ve only finished one week, and we’ve got a lot of heavy lifting to do between now and June, but I do believe I’m witnessing a transformation in progress.

I [can] see the goodness of God in the land of the living.

Psalm 27:13 Rathje Revised Version

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