(Names and details have been changed for confidentiality.)

“…and was recently examined for ADHD.”

I lean back at my desk with relief and close the e-mail. I wonder if she got prescribed anything. Maybe that will calm her down.

That’s the problem with students like Nancy—they really challenge your teaching philosophy.

On the one side, I want all of my students to succeed and learn Algebra in my class. On the other hand, I would secretly love for a test to render Nancy a “Special-Ed” label, so she could have an aide to supervise her, or (even easier) get her out of my class. About 92% of me wants her to succeed in my class with no help.

But that 8% of me… oh, I hope for a release from her yelling, leaving her desk, poking other students, standing next to me during a lesson with her hand up, and other impulsive middle-schooler behaviors. But that 8% is present in every one of my sighs, every exasperated response, and every time I rub my temples as she asks, “Mr. Vaudrey, am I annoying?”

Yes, Nancy. Yes.

You annoy me and every other student in the class when you call out to them across the room during a test, when you ask questions to people who aren’t even looking at you, and especially when you monitor who’s next for the bathroom pass. You’re annoying when you proclaim that you’ll buy students expensive birthday gifts, but never follow through.

It’s annoying, even though I’m pretty sure your mom is unemployed, and your promise to buy Brandon an iPad is all pomp to mask the shame.

Nancy’s mom is baffled at how to control her. There are rumors that she has Nancy stand in the corner for hours at a time just so she can have some peace. The staff at school isn’t sure where Dad is, but we know that the family doesn’t have much money. Nancy waited weeks to get glasses and didn’t bring any of the four items she promised for the class party.

So it’s Thursday before Winter Break. Nancy comes to my class before school starts.

“Good morning, Nancy. You’re about 5 hours early to class.”

She smiles, shuffles her feet and avoids eye contact. “Um… Mr. Vaudrey? Like… my mom works at Nordstrom’s and… um… I didn’t know what to get you… so… um… like, we… uh. We got you this.” She holds out a small, unassuming gift bag with a bent tag and a card. To: Mr. Vaudrey. From: Nancy.

“Thank you, Nancy! This is the first gift I’ve gotten this year. Thank you very much.” I shake her hand and hold the gift still, hoping to signal to her that it’s polite to leave after you give a gift. She gets the hint and clumps off to first period in her too-big shoes.

Back behind my desk, I open the card first, like the good boy my mother raised. The card, written in Nancy’s pointed scrawl says, “Mr. Vaudrey thank you very much for help me in my work and helping me be a good person inclass.”

I peel back the tissue paper. Inside the bag are cologne samples from Nordstrom’s.

From a low-income family who wanted to give a gift to their daughter’s teacher.