Everyone has their “maverick” right? Their one thing that, no matter how hard you try, just seems perpetually out of reach. Well, among my many titles, one that I hear daily is Mrs. Harris, (I happen to be a Language Arts teacher) and my “maverick” just happened to be a boy named John. From the first day of class, this boy was a challenge and–BONUS–I had him twice-a-day!
What started out as not talking turned into keeping his head down, which then evolved into a full-out fall asleep in class. And this was too much. Because although I’m a far, far cry from perfect, one thing I pride myself on is my ability to relate to my students. Not so with John. Roughly six-foot and rolling with questionable characters, this wanna-be-thug wanted nothing to do with me. So, what did I do? Stage an intervention of course!
A few weeks into the school year I had a sit down with John, telling him that no matter what, I was not going anywhere and therefore would not be giving up on him. I would pepper him with, “Good morning sunshines,” and “Wakey-wakey,” greetings. Not much changed, and sadly, the closest illusion I had of progress came from another student who reported that John had taken a sip of my iced-coffee when I left the room. Not exactly the breakthrough I was hoping for. But, as I always tell my students, “Hope dies last,” and I continued to be too stubborn to let him go.
The first glimmer I saw came when John asked me to borrow one of my many, massive quote books piled along my desk like a walled fortress of “words at the ready.” I wasn’t sure whether or not it was a legitimate request, but who was I, the quote queen to say no, no matter what the reason.
A few days passed, and when I asked John if he was enjoying the book, he gave a small smile and said, “Yeah. My mom reads it too.” A few of his friends overheard and scoffed, tossing out comments of disbelief but I quickly smothered their negativity with an, “I believe him, and I’m proud he is choosing to read.” A small nod in his direction, not too much but enough to show I was on his side, and I moved on.
A week later I decided that our class was going to begin volunteering with the special needs kids in the building. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I decided that my struggling readers just might gain a bit of confidence if they were to read to students who could not read at all. I was nervous about many of them, especially kids like John who often seemed so void of emotion in an attempt to be tough. But my fears were soon put to shame. Within a few minutes, John reached out to a severely handicapped boy, smiling warmly and allowing him to hold his hand for a much too long high-five.
As time passed, I asked John if he would help me in the class a little, to be my “assistant,” so-to-speak. Always eager to make others laugh, he took on the challenge as what I assume was a joke, but soon took on the job with rigor. Within days, John decided to sit in the front of the room, take attendance, pass out papers and check to make sure everyone was sitting in their assigned seat. He wasn’t necessarily jumping leaps and bounds on his assignments, but he was doing something!
When had an assembly, I decided to ask John to, “be my eyes,” and keep charge of the class as I couldn’t be next to everyone in the auditorium. Standing to the side, I was captivated by the sight of who happened to be seated in front of him. It was that same handicapped boy from volunteering, and he kept turning with a wide-smile just for John. Periodically, the boy would even hold his hand during the performance to be sure he’d stay. At this, John looked up at me, and grinned.
Every day I write a quote of the day on the board, and last week, after class, John shared that he had, “found a good one.” Without hesitating I asked him to come back at the end of the day and put it up for tomorrow’s board. Instead of running to the bus with his friends, John remembered to come back and took a moment to write (in his best handwriting) this quote …
“The truth is, everyone will hurt you. You just got to decide who is worth suffering for.” -Bob Marley
All I can say is, regardless of the journey, the struggles and the let-downs, this boy knows something about life that too many of us miss. I wonder how many people we tend to pass off in our lives because they aren’t “easy” to be around. How many potential friends are we losing out on? How many inspirations? How many chances to be the someone they’ve been waiting for?
I know things aren’t perfect, John’s not perfect–but one thing I do know … in my life, he is most definitely, “worth suffering for.”