By Sabrina Bartels
When I was younger, my parents would always tell me not to judge a book by its cover. I used to think that they would say this just because I was always going to the library and finding new books to read. I would always pick the books with the brightest colors and the most pages, regardless of whether I liked the subject matter or not. It wasn’t until I was older that I began appreciating the nondescript books hidden on the shelves: the romantic escapades penned by Jane Austen, the tragic love story told in The Great Gatsby, and the adventures experienced in The Chronicles of Narnia. To this day, my love of reading has not changed.
But I’ve thought about that age-old adage that my parents used to tell me, and it’s taken on a whole new meaning after a recent experience.
One of the perks of being a school counselor is getting invited on field trips. This year, two of the sixth grade classes asked me to chaperone their trip to the Milwaukee County Zoo. The first group told me that they were going to place all of the kids I hadn’t gotten to know as well in my group. Perfect! I got to spend some one-on-one time with seven really awesome kids. I learned about their hobbies, their passions, their quirky personalities, and their hilarious senses of humor. I came back from that trip feeling awesome and ready to conquer the next field trip.
And then I was handed my group assignment. Not going to lie, I cringed a bit.
In an effort to reduce the sheer amount of drama/conflict going on in that class, all of us chaperones were handed at least one girl who was heavily involved in the drama. In my group were three girls whom I knew were often in the thick of things. Okay, two of them weren’t always the prime suspects, but they definitely had a hand in contributing. I was worried because not only did I have three possible girls who were involved in drama, but I had one of the top drama starters in my group, someone whom I talked to on almost a daily basis about starting drama. I almost cried.
So the next morning, I prepared myself. I set ground rules. I told them that if I had to speak to them even once about drama, they were getting a detention the minute we got back to school. As we started our walk through the zoo, I found myself dreading every minute, because every minute brought us closer to possible drama.
But you know what? It didn’t.
I spent a lot of time before the field trip worrying about how I was going to control my particular group. I didn’t need to. This group turned out better than my other, which is definitely saying something.
These girls – these girls that I had worried about with drama, and girls that I had talked to earlier that month about keeping their nose out of it – were perfect. And I do mean PERFECT. They were quiet. They were patient. They did their worksheet with little to no prompting from me. They were polite to the younger kids, letting them get closer to the windows so they could see the animals. When one older gentleman walked through the aviary with us, pointing out every species of bird that the zoo had, my girls were attentive and asked great questions. I was worried that they were going to roll their eyes, or get on their phones, but they didn’t. They acted so incredibly mature. It was amazing.
As we rode back to school, I began chastising myself. Here, I had been dreading the entire affair, and it had turned out that my fears were groundless. My students were great. In essence, I had done exactly what my parents had always warned me not to do. I had judged all of my “books” by their covers.
To see that my students had this whole other side to them was fulfilling. It raised my spirits. It reminded me that I only get to see one facet of my students at school; it is so rare to see every side of my student in the seven hours that I have them. (How often do we show all of our own sides to the people we work with?) And then I reminded myself that I need to love and appreciate the side of my students that I do see, whether it’s their best side or not. I need to cherish these students as they are. No matter what, they are still my students, and still deserve my care, concern, and support.
It was a good lesson. I hope you all get to experience it someday as well!