Of course I ignore them, because I am behavior-management savvy (in my own mind) and they know I will not answer them until they raise their hands.
Since I am not an octopus or three-headed snake, I cannot attend to all the darlings' needs at once. So I created a bucket in my classroom labeled "I've Got Something to Tell You!" It has slips of paper next to it, and any time a student just can't wait to tell me something or needs to disclose some news discreetly, he or she can write it on the paper and drop it in the bucket. I check it at the end of the day and usually write back.
Sometimes the notes say things like "You're the best teacher!" (Naturally). Other times the sentiments are more heartfelt, such as "I wish I could read."
Get your tissues out. This next story sounds like a Hallmark card but I swear it happened.
One of my female students, we'll name her Sarah, is of the larger size for her age. She wears the same faded, blue jacket on her body and the same grumpy, lackadaisical look on her face each day. I often get over-cheery when I greet her each morning, just to see if she'll actually smile or even laugh at my cheerleader-like efforts. Anything.
So about two months ago, I was going through the bucket and pulled out a paper, folded into fourths. I opened it in the solace of my post-schoolday classroom (ahhhhh, what a nice sound) and read these words. "I hate myself and I am ugly."
The next day when Sarah's class lined up for the teacher handshake, I asked her to stand aside until everyone came in so I could speak to her. The other students quietly went to work on their morning problem of the day, working like busy bees ... oh wait, I'm dreaming. The other students were going nutso in the classroom, but I was determined to have a quiet moment with this wounded warrior.
I told her I read her note, and that I wanted her to know something.
"You are beautiful. You are smart. And you are loved." I said. "Now I don't know who told you that you are ugly, but they're wrong. I'm your teacher and you need to listen to me."
I told her to repeat those three statements, which she did. Then as each day went on, I continued to pull her aside every few days and ask her, "Sarah, what are you?"
She would repeat, "I am beautiful, I am smart and I am loved." Often she would say it just to appease me or just so I'd let her go sit at her desk. But she always knew the answer to my question.
Then today, which was just an ordinary Tuesday with 6 weeks of school to go (HALLELUJAH SING THE ANGELS OF THE LORD), I checked the bucket again.
Inside was a paper, folded into fourths.
I opened it, and read these words:
"I am beautiful. I am smart and I am loved. Love, Sarah."
And that's why I am a teacher.