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Did I Do Enough?

January 23, 2014

It happened.

1aI came back from Christmas vacation and one of my students has transferred out.  He wasn’t happy here.

I am getting the feeling “Chris” was very troubled and his family felt that he needed a new venue, preferably away from Christian education.  The last few weeks before the Christmas break I noticed that he was subtly growing more morose whenever I passed him in the halls.  His attention span lessened with each new day in December.  I would get a vacant stare most of the time, and whenever I asked him a question in class, his answers became progressively slower and less sharp.  He was never discourteous towards me, only increasingly distant.

Now he’s gone.

And I feel sad.

We chatted, for sure, and even joked once in a while, but I feel that I didn’t do enough.  I wonder if there might have been one extra kind word I could have given him that may have made a difference.  I tried my best to sit next to him before class started and see how his day had been, how he was getting along with other students, how his grades were. Chris would respond in a genuine manner, openly talking with me about his goings-on.  In fact, he was a pretty good note-taker as well.  His retention of the doctrines of the Bible (especially eschatology)  and the debate points were above average.  But now he’s gone.

Was the short time I had with him helpful to him?  Were the Bible truths impactful?

Could I have reached out just a little bit more … been a more compassionate teacher?

The influence of a teacher can be monumental.  I was ten years old when my parents divorced. It was sloppy, loud and hurtful.  We kids carried the burden of confusion and guilt – could we have caused this problem? The 1960s era was not kind to children of divorce, and my sixth grade teacher left an indelible impression on me.  I had been a straight A student up until then, but with the hellish arguments and unpredictable atmosphere at home, my grades began to plummet.  Rather than sidle up and try to understand my disintegrating world, my homeroom teacher Mr. Byrd was most unsympathetic.  At the time I was the homeroom president, a title mostly titular but nevertheless an enjoyable honor.

But as I fumbled through each day, failing at quizzes and quietly fretting over my parent’s continual fights, my teacher badgered me relentlessly.  Then he dropped the hammer.  In full view of everyone.

“Seems to me,” announced Mr. Byrd to the entire class, “that Zockoll’s having problems with his studies and his discipline.  So why don’t I just take away his presidency and move him another part of the room until he gets his act together.”  And indeed he did just that, removing my place and putting me in the back of the room, the proverbial dunce-cap-and-tall-stool punishment.  He never did try to find out what was eating away at me, nor did he ever encourage me to help me “get my act together.”  The humiliation piled on top of the pain of the divorce.  I seriously thought of running away.  Why wouldn’t somebody reach out?

The years went by.  I became a teacher myself.  The staff pointed out Anna, a junior who had transferred in.  “She won’t talk.  She just sulks.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Her parents divorced.  She was taken in by relatives.  They moved here from her home state in California to here,” the staff member shook his head.  “She’s okay academically, but she keeps pulling back into a shell.”

Aaaaaah.

She was in my Old Testament Survey class.  I taught and she glared at me. After three days, I sat down with her between classes.  “You know, sometimes I miss California.”

Her eyebrows raised. “You lived in California?”

“Sure did,” I said.  “Hollister, near the middle of the state.”

She managed a wistful grin.  “I lived in Salinas.  You know, Steinbeck territory?”

I nodded.  “Cannery RowGrapes of Wrath.”

She looked out the window.  “I miss it terribly.”

The bell was about to ring.  “Well, why don’t you tell me about the Monterey Aquarium tomorrow after the lunch break.  I haven’t seen it yet and I’d like to know more about it.”

She lighted up.  “Oh, it’s absolutely the best place… you can hardly believe… well, I’ll tell you tomorrow.”  She chuckled and pulled out her notebook.

Each day I would ask her to tell me one thing about California.  After two weeks I shared the story of my childhood and the messy divorce of my parents.  Anna was more than ready to talk about her home situation.  She even joked about the clunky visitation efforts by both parents.

Slowly but surely I saw Anna open up in my class.  I directed her to a few other girls who were more than eager to her about the west coast. When I assigned speeches, Anna chose to talk about her home California church as her topic.  She blossomed.

Today Anna is married and has a wonderful family.  She and her husband are in the ministry.  Occasionally she’ll write me and tell me how she remembers when we shared talks about divorced kids as well as the west coast.  I smile, remembering how I wished Mr. Byrd would have tried to reach out to me.  And now I sit back and wonder, truly wonder, if I reached out to Chris … reached far enough.

I pray that I did.

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One Comment
  1. Quit making me cry already!! I totally understand the impact a teacher can or cannot (won’t) make. Thank you for sharing yet another truth.

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