I asked my readers, “What teacher changed your life for the better? Why was this teacher's influence so impactful?” A respective teacher spoke up and presented a perspective-changing response.
“Mr. North. People still find it astonishing that I not only became a teacher, I continued my education until I became a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) Why is my achievement so unfathomable to most of my school mates? Possibly, because I was one of the worst students ever!
Rebellious, argumentative, defiant, and disruptive, I spent more time in the Principal’s office than I did in class. I couldn’t stand school, my teachers, or much of anything else about education.
Until I had Mr. North. He was the one teacher who didn’t seem to have any preconceived notions about me or bear any animus toward me. He simply treated me fairly and honestly, and made me feel important and capable. When most teachers had written me off as a loser (and if you don’t think they talk about kids in the lounge you made a wrong turn somewhere along the way), he didn’t. I’m not sure why, but he made me feel smart, appreciated, and special.
While I never had another teacher like Mr. North (sad as that might be), I knew after having him as my teacher, what I wanted to do, and how important a teacher could be in helping other disaffected students turn the corner.
Maybe that’s why, throughout my 30+ years as an educator, I always gravitated toward “those” kids! In my professional experience, “those” kids are the best!”
Having taught for several years, I now understand what Mr. North means. Some of “those” kids truly are the best. While their circumstances are the worst, if we can recognize their misbehavior for what it really is, a means for attention due to an unfortunate circumstance that emotionally wounded a child’s heart, we can better relate to “those” students.
A very special student of mine had an extremely spotty resume. Not only was he autistic, but also he was violently sexually abused for the first eight years of his life. Never in my life have I had to work so hard to build a friendship, and establish a bond of trust with a student. He had a lot of behavioral problems, but I did not hold his conduct against him. I saw his behavior outbursts in light of the much bigger problem; a broken past of abuse, which caused confusion, fear, and inner turmoil that would occasionally erupt.
My sixth grade students knew that he was different, but not in a shaming way. Instead, he was like the sixth grade mascot. He would say things that no else one would dare say, although everyone in the room might be thinking those exact same words. He loved to answer questions in class, and press topics further. In science class, he was often sitting under his desk, tracing an Anime figure off of his Chromebook screen. When no one thought he was listening, he would speak up during the lesson, and “wow” us all. I remember the day we were learning about the states of matter: solid, liquid, and gas. I heard the word “plasma,” being shouted from the back of the room. I asked my special student, “What about plasma?” He proceeded to explain the fourth state of matter, “Plasma, is when atoms are moving at their fastest rate; which causes extreme heat. An example would be a star.” Wow. I thought, as my jaw dropped open. Another school day, for no special occasion, the boy dressed up and wore a panda suit that included a Mickey Mouse sized panda head. His carefree boldness labeled him a hero, and friend to his peers.
Always using unique terminology, and big words, the boy constantly stressed “justice for all.” When he got in trouble, he would proclaim that it was “unjust.” “I should be able to speak freely,” he once said to me. I type this smiling, because I miss his larger than life personality. My smile quickly fades as I realize the depressing irony of it all. His fight for justice makes complete sense. The boy was wronged, and the trauma of his past will never fully disappear on this side of heaven; but I pray that he will continue to grow and to heal.
My role to him that school year was to be his biggest fan; his source of safety, and to shower him with Christ’s unconditional love. I am so glad that God gave me the privilege to be a part of his life, if only for a breath in the light of eternity. I love that student, and pray that he will one day receive the gift of Christ’s justice and redeeming love.