“Have a great weekend, sweetie.” “You too, Ms. Kelly.” *Click* The tears that had been trapped by my eyelids were finally free to stream down my face.
I have the best job in the world. The best. No, I’m not making six figures, I’m not going to pay off my student loans anytime soon, and Lord knows when I’ll own my own home. But, what I do have means so much more to me than any of that. I get to help young people develop the skills needed in order to express their thoughts and feelings with the world. I get to see them try, fail, and try again. I get to see the moment when a concept clicks that took weeks to get right. And, most importantly, I get to aid them in the process of figuring out who they are, who they want to be, and love them all the way through that process. I am incredibly lucky.
But, what I certainly am not, is perfect. I make tons of mistakes. Sometimes it’s the small mistake of realizing that I didn’t go to the bathroom during my prep period, and now I am stuck in a classroom filled with 28 students, and all I can think about is how badly I need to pee. Other times, I make much bigger mistakes – mistakes that need to be fixed. That is exactly what happened to me last week.
I was teaching my 6th period Literature class, and facilitating partner work. Students were supposed to be analyzing how an allusion to the biblical story of David and Goliath helped the reader further see the theme of the story. As I was walking around, I stopped at the desk of a student who did not have his book. I offered to give him one to borrow, but he replied, “No. I don’t want a book, and I don’t want to be in this class.” “Okay,” I said, “but I don’t think that is the best decision for you to make right now,” and then I left him alone. He wasn’t disruptive, but he did spend the rest of the period with his head down, and I didn’t check back in.
Now, it should be noted that this child has a particularly difficult time in school. His name consistently comes up as one of the students whose behavior is disruptive, and I spend a lot of time problem-solving with his mother. But, while this may be the case, I also know that this student wants to do well. In fact, for the first few months of school, he was phenomenal. Not only that, but he was proud to be performing so well. His mother would tell me about moments where he would come home and show her a paper he had gotten and A on, and say: “Ms. Kelly was so proud of me!” Over the past few weeks, however, this attitude has shifted drastically.
Later on in the afternoon last week, I had this student again for book club. In this class, it is expected that every child finds a book from our class library, and spends the time reading it. He refused, again, to do anything, and proceeded to talk about how terrible the teachers at our school are. That’s when my pride crept in, and I thought to myself: “Fine. Then, I refuse to help you for the rest of the year since you think I’m so terrible.”
On Friday, I made the decision to call his mother and inform her about her child’s performance in my class. We got on the phone, and I could tell that she was incredibly disappointed, so she called her son over and began raising her voice in frustration. It was then that I asked if I could speak with him, myself.
“Hello,” his voice quivered. “Good afternoon. How are you?” “I’m okay,” he said, after a moment of hesitation. “I’m not calling to get you into trouble,” I said. “I’m calling because I’m genuinely worried about you,” I said. “You have had a really rough couple of weeks, and I know this isn’t who you are. Can you tell me why you have been having such a hard time?”
And, believe it or not, this young man proceeded to tell me more than he has told me the entire year. He finally opened up about how he feels in his classes on a daily basis. He told me that because he was absent so many times before the New Year, that he feels lost in my room, and doesn’t know what to do. So, I suggested that he stay after school with me on Tuesday so we can go over what he has missed so that he can feel more confident in my classroom from here on out. “How does that sound?” I asked. “Good. Thank you, Ms. Kelly,” he said. “Have a great weekend, sweetie.” “You too, Ms. Kelly.”
Last week I gave up on a kid, and hearing his voice on the phone the next day, describing what he’s struggling with, and what he needs help with, brought me to tears. Tears of guilt for ever thinking that, just because a child pushes me away, means that I should turn my back on him or her. Loving isn’t always easy, but it’s the people in our lives that are the most difficult to love that need it the most. So, next time someone you care about pushes you away, pull them closer; love them harder.
We’re going to mess up. But, the question is: can we set our egos aside and make it right? Being able to admit we’re wrong takes incredible courage, and it certainly isn’t easy. I’m far from perfect at doing this, but I’m trying to be a little bit better today than I was yesterday. And, if you ask me, that’s what this life is all about.