Growing Your Heart

It is mid-August and you have arrived for the first day of teacher professional development.

You are so excited!

There are only three days until a new class of students enters your classroom for the first time. You look forward to the start of a new school year. You can’t wait to see the kids’ smiles, learn their names and personalities, and guide them through another year of learning and discovery.

You have spent your summer immersed in personal growth: reading books, planning with colleagues, and taking classes to enhance your skills as an educator. You have spent many hours organizing and preparing your classroom. Your bulletin boards are finished, your first week of lessons and learning activities are ready to go, and your room is as clean as a whistle.

You are ready and excited for the first day of school. You think to yourself, “This is going to be a fantastic year. I just know it!”

But then … as you prepare your seating charts for the first day of school, you notice something on your class list.

A name.

In the blink of an eye, the easy spirit of optimism and confidence you felt in your heart just moments ago is replaced by a growing uneasiness in the pit of your stomach.

You have THAT KID.

You know the kid I’m talking about.

He is legendary among his former teachers.

He is that kid who knows exactly which of our buttons to push and seems to take great delight in pushing them!

He is that kid who can seemingly pluck anything from the air and turn it into something. He can take the smallest slight, real or imagined, and turn it into a war.

You have heard his name a hundred names, seen him acting out in the hallways and on the playground, and heard the stories from other teachers in the staff lounge.

You remember consoling your friend when she came to you last April exasperated, with tears in her eyes, and desperation in her voice.

And now he is yours.

THAT KID!

“Why me?” you ask yourself. You are frustrated because your plans for a great year have just been derailed by a ten-year-old.

It’s not fair, right?

Sure, it is. Here’s why.

It’s easy to love the kids who love you back. The ones who hug you when they come to your room, scribble “best teacher ever” on their papers, bring you treats and handwritten cards, and just float through your class following all of the rules and brightening your day with their smile.

It takes a bigger than average heart to love the student who blatantly disrespects you, shows no regard for your rules, and seems to hate your guts.

As teacher Nick Ferroni once wrote: “Children who are loved come to school to learn. Those who aren’t, come to school to be loved.And the reality is the kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways.

We know difficult kids are usually masking multiple layers of hurt. They have learned to defend themselves against feeling pain by erecting emotional walls of protection. Because these kids are unable to articulate the source of their angst and discomfort, these children desperately need patient, determined, and affectionate adults with thick skin who refuse to take offensive behavior personally.

We also know that it sometimes just takes one caring adult to make a difference. And this year, that adult might be YOU.

As I wrote a few months ago, the opportunity to positively impact these children’s lives is both an awesome privilege and frightening burden. And hugging porcupines is occasionally the most important part of our job.

THIS kid really does need you.

I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers for addressing children with significant behavior issues. There are no simple solutions.

All I can say is to do your best to grow your heart. Pray for strength and patience and compassion. Seek the assistance of colleagues, your school leaders, and behavior specialists. Work hard to maintain positive communications with the child’s parent or guardian. With the child, be consistently gracious and kind, supportive and encouraging, even during the stormiest days.

Meet him at the door on the first day of school and tell him “I’m going to love you and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Then prove it to him with your actions.

It won’t be easy, but did anyone ever tell you it would be?

If you are a teacher, bless you for the love and devotion you will give all the children in your classes this year.

You are a difference maker and are helping to make our world a better place. THAT kid may never thank you for all you will do for them this year, but I can.

Thank you! Have a great year!

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3 thoughts on “Growing Your Heart

  1. Ahhh, that kid. I loved so many sad, angry, broken-hearted kids. I’m sharing your blog with the young teachers in my family. Have a rewarding 17/18 school year.

  2. Oh, did I ever need this today. I got my rosters. I got that kid. I even felt a little fear. But, you said to tell him “I’m going to love you and there is nothing you can do about it” and I realized I can do this. I might not say it out loud, 8th graders have think walls, but I”ll be repeating it to myself until I don’t have to anymore.

    It’s going to be a really, really good year. Thank you!

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