Caring about the education of each
child who walks into the classroom should be a given for every teacher, but
what about students? Should it be expected that each child who enters the
classroom cares about the education of every other child in the room?
You know what? Lose the word
“expected.” Does this ever happen? Do other teachers encounter students who
inherently care about the learning of every other student in the room?
For the first five or six years of
my career, I would have easily answered that question with a loud and emphatic
no! Students may be willing to help other students, to work in groups, to speak
to and disagree respectfully with every other student in the room. But care
about their learning? No.
Not, that is, until Parker Archie
Moore walked into my ninth-grade Algebra 1 class. At first glance, he looked
like the typical alpha male.
I teach at a junior high with
grades 7, 8 and 9. Parker was well known in all three grades, the good-looking,
athletic, popular and charismatic kid that girls had crushes on and all
athletes looked up to. It seemed he was talented at everything. What I soon
learned was that Parker was so much more than talented and could never be
defined as anything close to typical. Parker was a special kid.
I first noticed how maturely he
carried himself. On the first day of ninth grade, he introduced himself to me
and shook my hand, “Mr. Adams, I know we have seen each other around school a
lot and joked around in the hallway before, but I wanted to officially
introduce myself. I’m Parker.” I laughed and told him to sit down.
Of course, I knew who he was and,
of course, he knew me. I first thought he was trying to earn some brownie
points with the teacher, or maybe he was an “Eddie Haskell” type student. Boy,
was I wrong!
Parker started to distinguish
himself as a top student right away. He followed directions to the smallest
detail; he listened intently and took notes even when not asked. He ensured the
group rules used in my class were being implemented correctly in his group
because he trusted me when I said this structure would lead to more learning
for him and his classmates.
His work was neat and methodical.
He was not afraid to try new things, experiment or admit when he did not know
how to solve a problem. But how he interacted with others really set him apart
from most students.
With Parker, social circles did not
mean much. If he saw someone who did not have a pencil, it did not matter
whether they were friends; he would open his binder and give them one of his
extra pencils, never expecting to see the pencil again. If someone in his group
was confused, he would stop everything to lean over and talk them through
whatever they needed. He encouraged others to keep trying because “That’s the
only way you are going to learn and get better.” Who is this kid?
One day, I was walking around the
room and noticed him writing his number down in another student’s planner.
These two were not buddies, and did not have the same friends. As a teacher who knows
my students fairly well, I knew they were from different worlds. Parker said to
him, “If you have trouble tonight, call me. Don’t give up.” Wow.
A similar situation happened later
that semester. After class, Parker came up to me and asked if a particular
student was attending Want Help Wednesdays, a math help session I held after
school for struggling students. I replied no, but I had been trying to
encourage him to go. Parker asked, “If I can convince him to stay, can I stay
after school, too, and help him? I think he trusts me, and it might help him
get over this hump.” Wow.
Parker did persuade him and came to
WHW to help him. A few weeks later, Parker again stayed after class to ask me
another question, “I seem to be doing pretty well. Do you need some help on
Wednesdays after school? Baseball doesn’t start up for another month or two,
and I think I could help out while I have the chance.” Wow.
Parker continued to impress me with
the generosity of his attention, time, class supplies and smile. His smile was
never missing. If he did well on a challenging problem, he smiled. If he
struggled, he smiled and took it as an opportunity to get better. If someone in
his group struggled, he smiled and offered to help. Parker’s outlook on his
life was all about opportunity: the opportunity to learn, play, excel and help
In discussing the art and
philosophy of teaching, I have told colleagues, “I am not here for the ‘A’
students. I am here for the ones who need me most.” I can say with confidence that
Parker did not need me to succeed, but I sure needed him. He inspired me to be
a better person, teacher and role model.
A few years later, when Parker was
a senior in high school, his mom reached out to me about Parker’s college
choices. He was debating whether to follow in his sister’s footsteps to Gonzaga
or continue his education and football career at Linfield College.
I attended and played football at
Linfield, and she wanted my perspective on its size, location, educational
quality and the team. This was a no-brainer for me, as Linfield was the best
decision I could have made for my college experience. I asked her to send
Parker my way.
When Parker came back to my
classroom, he filled the room with his smile and greeted me once again with a
proper handshake. Only this time, his hand was much bigger and stronger. He sat
down and regaled me with stories of his high school classes. The good ones, the
tough ones and those he wished he could take again. Not to improve his grade,
because he earned an A, but because he felt there was more to learn. Wow.
He asked me if I still had Want
Help Wednesdays, and I explained it had expanded into a school-wide program in
the library on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Now we have teachers from other content
areas, and we help everyone with whatever they need. Parker expressed that he
wished our school had that when he was here. When I asked why, he said I bet it
would have helped a lot of students in my grade. Wow, again.
Soon we moved the conversation to
Linfield College. Why did I choose to go there, and what did I like about it?
First, the education one receives at Linfield is hard to match. It is
consistently ranked as one of the Top Small Colleges in America and Best
Bargains for your money. The community around Linfield is centered on learning.
The staff-to-student ratio is one of the best on the West Coast, so you can
meet with a professor and not a teacher’s assistant.
Second, the location is great.
Living outside Seattle, a four-hour drive to Linfield made weekend trips home
do-able, but still far enough away that parents can’t drop in unannounced
(smile). Plus, McMinnville is 45 minutes from Portland and Lincoln City. So
trips to the city or ocean are close enough for quick getaways.
Third, the football team is more
than a team; they are family. The goal of the coaches is to make you a better
man first, then a better football player. This philosophy is exemplified by
coaches who care about their players, their players’ lives and education. Team,
Excellence, Attitude and Class.
I summed everything up for Parker
by saying Linfield College is full of students like him, students who care
about their learning and the learning of those around them, students who excel
in the classroom and athletics.
Parker went home to discuss his
choices with his family and consider his priorities. A few days later, I
received an e-mail from his mom informing me that Parker had called the coaches
at Linfield and committed. The next day, Parker came by my class again. We
hugged, and I congratulated him on his choice.
This fall was the start of Parker’s
second year at Linfield and his second year on the football team. I attended
the homecoming game in October, hoping to watch him play. He had yet to crack
the starting rotation but was making a splash on special teams.
In a conversation with someone
close to the program, I heard coaches were excited to see what Parker could do
in his future at Linfield. Later that evening at a restaurant, I ran into
Parker and his mom. I gave him a hug and told him how proud I was of him. I
asked him if he was happy with his choice to attend Linfield.
“Yes, I have met so many good
people, and I am really enjoying it. I’m a little disappointed I’m not starting
yet, but that just means I need to work harder.”
This past Saturday, after Linfield
had won its sixth straight conference title, Parker entered the 7-Eleven across
the street from Linfield a little after 11 p.m. A local man entered the store
and stabbed Parker in the chest. Parker died not long after.
I read the news article on my phone
Sunday morning. Shock. Disbelief. Sadness. Denial. Anger. Sorrow. Then again.
Shock. Denial. Anger. Sorrow. And again.
I called his mom to offer whatever
I could, but what could I do? I called Linfield’s coach, too. I cried.
The past couple of days have been a
roller coaster of emotions. I had to leave school Monday because I could not
handle being in the classroom where Parker demonstrated incredible humanity for
I still remember where he sat. I
still remember our conversations. It’s hard to be here. It’s hard to think
about going to after-school help on Tuesday and Thursday.
I want to go home and try to sort
through this terrible act of evil, but I have to get back into the classroom. I
have to be there for the kids who need help, because that’s what Parker would