Participatory Journalism:
“Teacher, You’re My Best Friend!”

by Melanie Larsen

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    When I was working as a volunteer with the Headstart Program, there was a four-year-old boy who had a hard time adjusting to his new situation—being in a new school with other children, an unfamiliar teacher, and a 17-year-old teacher’s aide. I really didn’t understand what it was like to be without a lot of life’s luxuries. Each day this little boy would come to school crying. He would come and sit on my lap and tell me what was on his mind. He would tell me about his family, things he thought about, what he liked and didn’t like, what he worried about, and just anything he wanted to talk about. This would last for the first 15 minutes, and then he would go and play with the other children and do what the teacher had planned.

    One day after one of these sessions, I ran across a quote that seemed to fit this situation: “Understand men and women as they are—not as you are.”

    I knew this meant little children as well as adults. People want to be understood regardless of their age. When I read this statement, I wanted to understand this little boy. I just had to understand why he cried. Well, these sessions went on every morning for about three weeks. The more I understood him, the more I loved him. Then one bright Monday morning he smiled at me and said, “Teacher, I am big now!”

    He then went and played with the other children. He still knew I was there when he wanted to talk. He knew I understood and would listen, and during the summer we had many experiences together. He knew the teacher, and he loved to learn new things. He knew the other children and knew that they were his friends.

    On the last day of school he said to me, “Teacher, you’re my best friend!”

    We haven’t seen each other since, but the lessons he taught me that summer won’t be forgotten for many years to come. We were friends because I had taken the time to listen and understand him as he was.

    Illustrated by James Christensen