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Deidra Hawkins (center right) laughs with a group of friends after a storytelling night hosted by Chalkbeat and Spillit Memphis

Deidra Hawkins (center right) laughs with a group of friends after a storytelling night hosted by Chalkbeat and Spillit Memphis

This Memphis educator struggled to connect with a student, but a smile changed everything

When Deidra Hawkins was running a summer camp for young girls in Memphis, she remembers one particular student that she just didn’t know what to do with.

The student acted like she was miserable at camp. Hawkins recalls asking herself, “Oh Lord, what am I going to do?”

Hawkins was shocked when the girl’s mentors later told her that the student loved camp and “she talks about you all the time.”

She had felt like the girl didn’t want anything to do with her. “But the minute I would look away, I would see her smile,” Hawkins said recently at Chalkbeat Tennessee’s storytelling night in partnership with Spillit Memphis. Hawkins was one of six Memphians to share their education story with a crowd of more than 100 people last month.

When Hawkins was a first-year educator four years later, the smile from another hard-to-reach student was just as powerful.

Hawkins eventually left the classroom and founded Made2Glam, a nonprofit that works with girls who have experienced homelessness.

Watch Hawkins’ story in the video produced in partnership with The Daily Memphian, and read the excerpt below. And a special thanks to New Memphis for sponsoring our evening of storytelling.

It’s 2016, my first year of teaching. I am very naive thinking I’m about to save the world, thinking all the students are just amazing. My principal walked me up to meet this one young man, I’ll call him X-Man.

 I said, “Hi, how are you?” He looked at me and said, “Hm.”

 You always have that one student out of the school that is just going to terrorize the entire school. That was X-man. It was my job to provide intervention for X-Man, 45 minutes every day. What a way to kick off my morning, huh?

 I wanted to quit every day after the first 15 minutes of being with X-Man. Then came the second year. I had X-Man twice a day for 90 minutes. I wanted to quit every day. You know you have that one student where you say, “If I end up in jail, it will be well worth it.” He was that one student.

 One day, X-Man came to my classroom and wanted to give me this Oscar-worthy performance. Chairs going everywhere. Papers on the floor. He decided that he was just going to stomp off and just slam the door.

 And me, I’m going to show him who is boss. I’m running, looking quite foolish. I’m just fussing at him, going off. And then I decided, wait a minute, Deidra. You’re the one out of breath. You’re the one with the headache, and he’s just looking at you unbothered.

So, something is quite not right with this situation. It hit me: Instead of fussing at him, let’s take a different approach.  And I said to him, “X-Man, I came in this morning, I dropped my things off, I came to pick you up: What did I do to you today?”

He looked at me, I looked at him, and he smiled.

The next day, I went to pick up X-Man, he looked at me, I looked at him, and he smiled.

Normally, he would never like to do his work because he was in the fourth grade but reading on a kindergarten level. So, anytime it was time to do work, that’s when he would go into this performance.

 But once I looked at him, he looked at me, and he smiled – everything changed…

I let him pick the passage he wanted to read. At first, it was a struggle but he was smiling. I said, as long as I’ve got this smile, I’ve got him.