Sherwanda Chism says she is known as a teacher that students love. And so when elementary student Reshad came into her class and seemed completely disinterested, she made connecting with him her mission.
“Nothing that I did – the happy-teacher voice, the happy-teacher hugs – none of that stuff soothed him,” said Chism, a 20-year veteran of Memphis schools. “He could care less.”
An English teacher at Winridge Elementary School, Chism was one of seven educators and students who participated in a February storytelling night hosted by Chalkbeat Tennessee, Spillit, and The Knowledge Tree. The stories centered around school discipline practices, a topic Chalkbeat recently explored in this special report.
Chism said that after several failed attempts, she and Reshad eventually found a point of connection.
Reshad and his six siblings were living with their grandparents who were pastors. Chism is married to a pastor’s son. She would ask him about Sunday school every week, and eventually, he opened up.
Reshad starting spending his lunch breaks in Chism’s classroom, reading. Though he was years behind grade-level in reading, he slowly started to catch up.
“Reshad, that year, had the ability to experience some worth,” Chism said. “We preserved him. We kept him.”
But a few years later, tragedy struck. Reshad died, and Chism was devastated. Because of the bond they had formed, she was asked to give a eulogy at the boy’s funeral.
“As I think about the implications of Reshad’s story, my ask is for everyone in this room to consider the humanity of students,” she told the crowd.
To hear more, watch the video (or read the excerpt) below.
The video was filmed by Gillian Wenhold for The Social Exchange, a pay-as-you-can public relations and content creation firm for nonprofits, and businesses owned by women and people of color.
When Reshad came into my classroom, all my routines had been set because this was the second day of school. Everything was wonderful. I remember the day when we had our first conversation. Nothing that I did – the happy-teacher voice, the happy-teacher hugs – none of that stuff soothed him. He could care less. He didn’t care anything about learning, he didn’t care anything or about anyone else.
It was my goal to make Reshad like me, because I’m that likable teacher and all children like me. I would do everything I could… at least I thought, to make a connection. His grandparents were local pastors, and I’m married to a preacher’s kid, and so I said, let’s try this church thing.
That Monday came, and I said, “Reshad, tell me about your Sunday school lesson…” He just looked at me. The next week came, and I asked him again. Reshad was like, “Lady, get out of my face.” I asked him again, the third week, and no answer.
The fourth week came and I didn’t say anything. I had grown weary… Reshad came to me and said, “You didn’t ask me about my Sunday school lesson.” That was the beginning of many, many miracles with Reshad.
I always say, that year if you will allow me, we provided salvation for Reshad. When I think about the word salvation, I think about the root [word] and how it means to preserve, like salt. Reshad, that year, had the ability to experience some worth. We preserved him. We kept him…
Four years ago, I spoke at Reshad’s funeral…
As I think about the implications of Reshad’s story, my ask is for everyone in this room to consider the humanity of students. They are not inanimate objects. They have feelings. I also would like to say that, I don’t know where Reshad is. I don’t have a heaven or hell to put him in. But I believe that he experienced heaven on earth in my classroom.