One student, we will call him Chris, was constantly being sent to the office. He was often one of those students where you felt you had moved one step forward, only to quickly take two steps back. Some of the things that he had done in school would leave me shaking my head, yet if you were willing to look, his heart was gigantic. I had many struggles with him, that led to suspensions, both in and out of school, yet when he would return, my first interaction was not about what he had done, but about other things. I would often talk to him about things that interested him, and he often looked surprised that he was constantly in trouble with me.
This is not to say I wasn’t firm with him. There were times when a firm hand was needed, yet sometimes, a calm demeanour would be most beneficial. Sometimes, what I had tried made a difference, and sometimes it would seem like nothing was getting through.
The one thing that I never considered was giving up on him, and as frustrated as I would get, your memory when it comes to students sometimes needs to be short. If we paint the future with the brush of the past, there often seems to be little chance of moving forward.
At the end of my time as principal, the community held a “farewell” for me, and what I distinctly remembered was Chris coming up to me and saying, “thank you for all that you have done for me”, and gave me an unexpected hug. This was a student who was suspended more than anyone else in my time as a principal, but he knew that I wasn’t going to give up on him. Sometimes when I was most frustrated with him, I would make him sit in the office with me to just be there. If I would have severed the relationship between us, he might have jumped on the opportunity, but sometimes I would have to show him that no matter what, I wasn’t going anywhere. He knew that.
When we give up on our students, they often learn to give up on themselves. Many times in my life, I needed to feel someone else believed in me before I could believe in myself, and this was as an adult; our kids needs this just the same.
I honestly don’t know why he came to my mind as I have not seen him in years, but thinking about that hug and show of gratitude reminded me that it is always important to let the belief in our students outweigh our frustrations. You will be tested and you will have bad days that you will want to do over again, but that is part of the learning and the reality of relationships. Those kids that make you want to pull your hair out are sometimes the ones that need us the most. Being there for these kids is part of what differentiates a good teacher from a great one.