A Story of Why I Teach

As I am back at work this week and going through my classroom as well as sitting through the endless professional development sessions, I keep reflecting on why I teach. I keep finding items from past students and looking forward to my new incoming students. I’m trying to maintain my focus this year and put all my energy into my kids. This is the story that was published in the Chickensoup For the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers book this year. It is a true story about a student I had about 3 years ago. The name has been changed to protect the student’s identity.
I will always remember the day that Josh walked into my fifth-grade classroom.
The scowl on his face made me realize I was in for a long year with this boy. Josh was
brilliant. He was doing seventh-grade math with ease. He was an incredible artist, a
beautiful writer, and a great athlete.
Josh was also failing every single class. He would not do what he did not want to
do. Telling him to do something multiple times made the scowl appear and his obstinacy
grow deeper. Even when I went to put my hand on his shoulder, he would recoil like I
had burned him.
Our first few months together were a constant cycle of me encouraging him to do
better, Josh getting angry, and me getting frustrated and feeling helpless. One day, when I
was walking by his desk, I noticed that Josh was drawing instead of writing. As I was
about to redirect this behavior, I noticed how beautiful the drawing was. It was better art
than I had seen some professionals do. I told him how beautiful it was and kept walking
around the classroom.
At the end of the day, all the children packed up, and we walked out to the
parking lot together. After they left, I went back to my classroom and sat at my desk. The
picture that I had complimented was there. My eyes began to tear up as I realized that this
was the first sign of the ice breaking between us.
The next day, knowing very well that he would not want any public
acknowledgment, I privately thanked Josh for his artwork. For the first time all year, I
saw a smile. I noticed as the day progressed that Josh would strike up a conversation with
me, even though it was brief. This from the boy who had avoided me from day one.
These small conversations escalated to jokes and real talks about life.
I soon learned that Josh’s life was not easy. He, like many of his peers at the
school, had been forced to grow up too fast. He was doing his best to stay out of trouble
and make sure his older brother stayed out of trouble, too.
Josh liked a challenge. To motivate him to write an essay, I challenged him to a
race. If he completed the essay, I would have a foot race with him. He accepted the
challenge and completed the essay. As promised, I brought my running shoes the next
day. I had another teacher watch my class while we went outside to race. I knew I was
going to lose but went through with it anyway.
He beat me… terribly. He felt so bad about how easily he had beaten me that he
asked if I wanted a redo. I did not want to be embarrassed twice, so I politely declined.
When we arrived back in the classroom, all of the students wanted to know who won. I
was fully ready to publicly accept my defeat, but Josh announced to the classroom, “That
is between Ms. Blake and me. You do not need to know.” I was stunned by his
kindness and mature attitude.
At the end of the day, while I was walking the kids out to the parking lot, Josh’s
stepsister ran up and gave me a hug as usual. Shortly after, I felt another pair of arms
wrap around my waist. I turned to see Josh, the boy who did not want me to touch his
shoulder, giving me a hug. He looked at me and said, “Thank you for getting me,” and
then ran off to get into his car. That was when the final barrier between us fell.
To this day, I keep in regular contact with Josh to make sure he is doing well at
his new school. I am also the proud owner of several of his original works of art. I had
them framed, and they hang in my home. He is one of the many students who taught me
to never give up on a child. They all want to succeed, and they all want love; all it takes is
a little patience.

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