Who Are They When You’re Not Around?

Former SsFormer Ss 2

“Integrity is who you are when no one is watching.”

I tell my students this until they gripe and groan at the sound of the first word, because they know the rest by heart.  I value integrity and honesty with such fervor, likely because I’ve seen the cancer dishonesty can become, spreading to affect many more lives than just the withholder or fabricator of information.  My students know this very early on, but I haven’t been entirely sure that the lesson was sticking with them.

Last Friday, I had a gaggle of former students come visit me.  They were on Christmas break from their various universities, and decided they had to come pay me a visit.  Honored and surprised, they quickly reverted back to laughing at me–never with me–as I jumped and squealed at the sight of them at my door.  I’m so glad my current students were occupied with food and reviews so I could grill these young men about their new lives.

I asked them questions about their classes, the various sports they played, and of course nosier questions like, What about a girlfriend?  Wait, what happened to your old girlfriend?  Are you happy with your life?  What do you eat?  Are you eating?  I’m going to send you some food.

After a series of questions, Carl said, “Mrs. Paxson, you know, you were right.”  I replied, “Of course I was!  About what?”

He explained, “You see, I thought I knew what it was to focus–that you’re on task when someone comes over to check on you.  But in college, nobody does that.  So it’s like focus is what you do when no one is around, just like integrity.”

They proceeded to laugh AT me, again, as tears welled up in my eyes.  I wish I were kidding.

As a teacher, this question often plagues my mind: Who are you when I’m not around?  

And the natural questions that follow:

How can I strengthen THAT person, and not just the one you present to me?

How can I provide a space where you can be the person you are when I’m not around, when I’m actually around?

Or, like Amy’s–Have I really taught you anything?

Just as integrity is what you do when no one is watching, I would argue that true growth and commitment to learning can be judged by the same criteria.

With this in mind, I’ve presented my students with some reading challenge ideas, to keep them engrossed in words over the break.  Here are a few ideas from my colleagues.  We ran out of time to make our own reading challenges this semester, but we will in the Spring.

I’ve also written down Carl, Enrique, Kobe and Tomi’s words in my notebook to look back when I’m feeling ineffective and voiceless.  What we do matters, and it matters everyday–even the days that they’re no longer in our presence.

Jessica Paxson teaches English IV, AP Lang, and Creative Writing in Arlington, TX.  She runs on coffee and exaggeration, and is a victim of OCD–Obsessive Christmas Disorder. You can probably find her humming Christmas tunes over the sounds of her students’ pained groans, and sporting a gift bow in her hair for the last week of school.  Her students frequently describe her as “an annoyingly cheerful person who thinks all her students can change the world.”  Yep, pretty much.  


One thought on “Who Are They When You’re Not Around?

  1. Erika B. December 21, 2017 at 8:06 am Reply


    Thank you for sharing this, I’ve jotted down your quote about integrity and plan to use it with students tomorrow as we head into our winter break here in Brooklyn.

    Your posed questions resonate with me as I’ve been internally reflecting on some of the same wonderings…so, thank you!

    Wishing you, all of TTT, and students everywhere a fantastic holiday season full of inquiry AND integrity!



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