The lessons I learned from a teacher of troubled kids.
He is a mountain of a man.
Nearly seven feet tall and several hundred pounds, with broad shoulders and a shorn head, one would presume he is something straight out of an iconic Chicago Bears defensive line. But he’s not.
Instead, he teaches EBD (emotionally and behaviorally disturbed) students at a local high school.
When engaging him in conversation, you are struck by an uncanny, even paradoxical, gentleness. Day in and day out, he spends school hours with kids who are lost or forgotten, abused or discarded. Through the mean chance of genetics or the unforgiving plight of environment, these young men and women have endured so many people giving up on them that they have often given up on themselves. And so they get angry. They don’t trust. They lash out. They withdraw.
But he reaches them. Somehow.
How do you do it?, I ask.
For a moment, his eyebrows knit and his forehead furrows. Then he looks at me and says,
Every day, before the day begins, I write four things on the blackboard.
1) Work hard.
2) Be kind.
3) Help others.
4) Make little improvements each day.
Some lives are so chaotic, so complex and overwhelmed that we don’t need to make things more overwhelming. These are four of the most important things we need to remember.
Without doubt, from what I can gather, the days are long and hard. These kids can be quite bright, but troubled. Daily, it’s not matter of getting Bs or Ds, but a matter of showing up, of controlling one’s temper, of surviving from one day to the next. It’s a matter of getting the small things right in life, which slowly, imperceptibly leads to getting the big things right in life. It’s not only what these kids need. It’s what I need.
By the grace of God, my upbringing and formative years of schooling were different. So very different. And so are my daughters’. But the lessons this teacher writes on the blackboard every single day are among the most important (and deeply humane) that I have heard in quite some time. Work hard, be kind, help others, make little improvements each day … Four of the most important things we need to remember.
Without a doubt.
***(Permission was graciously granted from this gentleman to pass on his story)***