On my way home from work yesterday, I noticed a pedestrian walking up ahead. Something about this person caught my attention. I can't really explain what it was, but I continued to stare as I slowly inched up on this pedestrian. My first thought was, "Man, the poor guy must be freezing!" He was wearing a very light sweater in 37 degree weather. Brave soul. As I got a little closer, I noticed that he had a slightly somber demeanor--he walked slowly, with his head down, his feet shuffling. I pitied the person. I was happily signing along with Miley Cyrus (judge me?), in my heated car. Life was great. What was getting this poor chap down? I continued to stare. As I inched even closer, I felt a pang in my heart. It was one of my sophomore students.
This exact student that I was unknowingly pitying was one that I had been "cursing" (I use the term lightly) just an hour earlier. This student is the epitome of all lazy students. Always late to class, always chatting, always in trouble, always an excuse, always attitude. He's the student that makes you groan under your breath when you see him walk into your classroom. Because you know exactly what he's going to say, "Why do I have an F?" umm...beats me. Maybe, just maybe, because you haven't turned anything in? but what do I know? I'm just the teacher. or "I wasn't in class last week because I was throwing up in the bathroom, so can you excuse the absence?" is that so? I'm pretty sure I saw you during lunch with a bunch of friends. The only thing you're throwing up is lame excuses.
But as the realization hit me that this pedestrian was, in fact, my hard-to-love student, I saw something new.
I saw a young teenager who was walking home from school three hours after school ended.
Did his Mom forget to pick him up? Does he have anyone to pick him up?
I saw a young boy who wasn't warm enough in the cold weather.
How far does he have to walk?
I saw a boy who looked lonely and beaten down.
Have I contributed to that?
I saw a kid who just wanted to be loved.
Have I shown any semblance of love towards him?
Sure, I tell all of my classes I love them--but have I shown love specifically to this individual?
I saw a kid who needed someone to believe in him.
Did I believe in him? Truly believe in him?
My heart ached as these truths hit me.
And then an even bigger truth hit me.
One that seems so simple.
The students that are hardest to love are the ones that need it the most.
Of course, it's easy to love the straight-A student that is always actively participating.
Of course, it's easy to love the class clown who adds a bit of spice to your class.
Of course, it's easy to love the nice, shy student who has a sweet smile for everyone.
Of course, it's easy to love the sarcastic student who always laughs at your witty jokes.
But these are not the ones who need it most.
I was instantly reminded of an experience I had last year.
One that pains me to think about.
Because I was wrong, so wrong, in the way that I handled it.
This kid got the best of me.
He would never participate.
He would sleep during every class.
No matter what I tried to do.
Then, the next day he would come in and ask what he missed while he was asleep!
How annoying is that?
I tried everything.
He just didn't get it.
It was like in one ear and out the other.
He didn't even try on tests.
He would write his name down and then not answer a single question.
I tried everything for the first half of the year--and then sadly, I gave up.
He annoyed me like no other.
I admit, regrettably, that I rejoiced when he didn't show up to class.
About a month before the school year ended, I saw a report.
One that should have been shown to all of his teachers at the beginning of the year.
But someone dropped the ball.
He was a sophomore in high school with a second grade reading level.
My jaw literally dropped.
Why wasn't he in special reading classes? Why wasn't the school helping him? How in the world did he pass through school all of these years?
No wonder why he had no motivation.
No wonder why he didn't take the tests or do the homework or struggled during class activities.
And, ohhh, how I wished that I had cared more.
If I had cared more, maybe I would have noticed before I saw that report.
Maybe we could have sat down for 30 minutes every day after school and just read chapter books together.
I know that sounds silly, but wouldn't that have helped him more in life than learning about history?
Would he have had more motivation if he had noticed that I cared?
As I looked at this report at the close of the school year, I realized that it wasn't him that failed.
It was me.
I had failed at being the teacher I wanted to be.
I had failed at showing love to this student, even if he drove me up the wall.
I had failed.
When I think back to this particular student, a regret so deep washes over me.
I vowed to never let it happen again.
And yet, as I sat in my car yesterday, I realized I was doing it again.
I wasn't helping the student who needed it most.
I wasn't showing him how much I really did care about HIM as an individual---even if he drove me completely insane.
How could I be so careless, so judgmental, and so apathetic to this lonely student?
As I sat in my warm, heated car, with fun melodies in the background, I watched this young, shivering, lonely boy turn the corner and continue to walk away.
And I promised myself that I would try harder to love the ones that are hardest to love.
Today, I wrote a simple message on his paper that I passed back to him, "I'm glad you are in this class."
At the end of the class, he came up to me, refused to meet my gaze, and said four simple words, "You're a good teacher."
Then he put his head down and walked out of the classroom.
And I put my head down and cried.
Maybe, just maybe, I won't fail this year.