Something profound happened to me the other day at the market and the scene keeps replaying and replaying in my mind.
Two years ago, I was working with 7th grade severe needs children, and for part of the time, I would be in the general ed classroom working with moderate needs children to help accommodate and modify their learning based on their ability. However, being in the general ed classrooms allowed me to get to know all of the kids, and in addition to the severe and moderate needs children, I quickly began to build fun and meaningful relationships with many of the students and did my best to earn their respect. Well, I still see many of these kids around, and it is always a pleasant surprise to run into them around town. Usually we shake hands, shoot the breeze and reminisce for a few moments and carry on. As I walk away, I always feel enlightened to know that my former students are doing well, trying hard and doing their best and living life. Not much of a better feeling if you ask me.
Anyway, there are always those students that it seems you can never reach. No matter how hard you try or how many times you reach out, they still do not want much to do with you. After all, you are a teacher. I have known a few of these children. In fact, there was an instance one time when one of these very students, who was always in the office and always being escorted by the resource officer, took a rubber band and purposefully snapped me in the neck with a rubber band right before the entire class. The entire class gasped and sat extremely silent and didn’t know how to react as they didn’t know how I was going to react.
Well, I didn’t react. I stood before the class very silent and calm until the stinging went away, and along with the teacher, we redirected everybody’s attention back to their work as if nothing happened. The teacher was insistent upon calling the school officer to have him escorted to the office, but I asked if I could speak to him before she made any calls. The teacher agreed, and I was allowed my moment with him.
I reminded him that no matter what he did, I would always be willing to do anything for him and that I will always be there for him, that all he has to do is ask. He brushed this off with his tough guy attitude and told me that he would rather go to the office. So I told him that he could go, but before I would let him go, he had to shake my hand and apologize for his action. He refused, and so we sat there in silence. About five minutes went by, and he was seemingly getting nervous and very impatient. Finally, he stuck out his hand and gave me a trite “Sorry.” As I shook his hand, I let him know that his actions will define him as a person and that if he wanted respect from his peers and elders that he must give respect to receive it. After saying that, I let his hand go and he was escorted to the office.
Two days later, this kid had a massive stroke in the classroom right before the very eyes that witnessed him pop me in the neck with a rubber band. He was flown to the Children’s Hospital in Denver where he remained in a coma for nine weeks. That was the last I saw of him.
This past weekend, I was leaving the market, and as I was walking through the door, here this young man came. Our eyes met, and he gave me the most inspiring and brilliant smile. He walked up to me and grabbed my hand. I said, “Antonio, you are looking great, and you have a new fancy haircut. How are you?! It is so great to see you!” He didn’t respond. He couldn’t. I found out from his mother, who he was clinging to and now speaking with a cracked voice said that he had lost the ability to speak and now truly needs assistance for everything he does. She looked at me and said, “Thank you.” I thought, “For what?” and she said that she hadn’t seen him respond to anybody like that for a long time and his smile made her very happy. We looked at each other for a few moments, shook hands one more time and parted ways.
I know that that there are times when we feel like we want to give up on a kid and think that they will never turn around. But to have Antonio come up to me and communicate with me the only way he knew how, a handshake and a smile, reminded me that children listen and learn even when we feel like it is the last of their priorities. It also reminded me to never give up on a child no matter how trying they may be. Antonio didn't give up, so neither will I.