Hugging A Porcupine

He is ours.

He was ours when he arrived in kindergarten thirteen years ago – precocious, curious, and bursting with spirit. His blue plaid shirt brought out the tint of his eyes and his bountiful smile brought joy to those around him. He was smart, impish, naturally clever, and full of promise. He was five.

He was ours when learning became more challenging in second grade. When his emerging struggles with dyslexia and distractibility started to manifest themselves in emotional outbursts and disruptive behaviors. He was ours when he began to indiscriminately hit and kick other kids on the playground. He was ours when he drew an intricate picture of a prairie landscape in art class, amazing us all with his innate artistic talent. He was seven.

He was ours when he began testing the limits of acceptable classroom behavior. When his self-esteem began to slowly die and his personality turned increasingly stormy. He was ours when he intentionally punched his teacher in the arm in third grade and threw a book at another child’s head. When he curled up in a corner of the room, hyperventilated, cried, and said he was sorry. He was nine.

He was ours in fifth grade when his parents divorced and when he witnessed his 54-year-old grandmother die after an excruciating battle with cancer. We were there when his dad remarried and moved to California, the last time he’s seen his father. He was ours when his mother lost another job after showing up drunk at work. He was ours when the home he’d lived in all his life went through foreclosure and when his mother and he moved into a local shelter. He was ours when he started stealing and tormenting smaller kids at the bus stop. He was 11.

He was ours when his beautiful, infectious smile retired and the darkness began to encircle him.

He was ours when we had to reassure the other children in his seventh-grade class they were safe, despite his nearly constant threats.

He was ours when he stopped doing homework, when he stopped caring about his grades and when he started skipping school to play violent video games. He was ours when he tried his first cigarette, drank his first beer, popped his first pills, smoked his first joint, and became sexually active.  He was 14.

He was ours when he got suspended for fighting, for chronic disruptive behavior, for cussing out a teacher, for breaking a computer. He was ours when we couldn’t find his mom to pick him up on the day he said he was going to hurt himself after “taking out a few others.” When he told his counselor he wished he’d never been born.

He was ours when the police handcuffed him and delivered him to the local adolescent care center. He was 15.

He was ours six months later when his mom died of an overdose in the back seat of a drug dealer’s car. He was ours when he returned to school as a hollow shell of his previous self, nearly catatonic from his prescribed regimen of daily depression medications.

He was ours when a caring teacher decided to take a chance and bring him into her family’s home. When the color came back to his eyes. He was ours when he won the grand prize in the Philbrook Museum’s Young Artist contest. He was ours when he found a counselor he trusted, who took the time to listen and who was patient enough to peel through the many layers of anger and angst surrounding his soul to discover the sad, insecure, yet lovable boy inside.

He was ours when he recovered his smile again. When he joined a local church youth group and found meaning in his life. He was ours when a beautiful girl with deep blue eyes and an angel’s heart gave him a reason to love himself again. He was 17.

He will be ours when he walks across the stage next month at graduation. When he hugs his adoptive mom and dad and says,  “I love you. Thank you for saving my life.” He will be ours when he leaves our school in May to become the best version of what he can be.

This child is ours. He is smart and bright and kind and troubled and hurt and angry. For 13 years, he has struggled mightily to overcome trauma, despair, learning challenges, and a self-defeating mentality. He wrestled for most of his young life to keep himself balanced, to calm his inner demons, to make friends, to trust adults, to show compassion, to love himself, and to learn with any consistency.

To simply be a kid.

You see, he was always ours. He belongs to us as much as the star quarterback, the future Ivy League scholar, the homecoming queen, and the valedictorian. For much of his schooling, he was tough to love. We didn’t want to own him.

If you have been in education very long, especially in a larger district, you have met “him” or “her,” likely more than once. These children frustrate us, make us angry, and cause us to cry. They cause us to question our effectiveness as educators and the meaning and value of our work.

It hurts to get close to children like “him.” It’s like hugging a porcupine. But they are ours, and hugging porcupines is occasionally the most important part of our job.

A core belief I hold tightly is this: When children are in our schools, they are our kids. All. Of. Them. If a kid walks through the doors of our public school, we should see them, listen to them, push them, care for them, support and believe in them as if they are our own.

When we help these children survive and thrive – academically, socially, and emotionally – we are reminded of the beliefs and passion that power our work as educators. All kids can learn. We know how to teach them. Together, we have what it takes.

All the kids at our schools are “ours.” For some, we have but a brief opportunity to do the one thing – the RIGHT thing – to change the course of their life in a positive way. What an awesome privilege and frightening burden that is.

This much is certain. This boy is ours.

And when you take the chance to hug a porcupine like him, the reward will be yours.

Photo credit: http://www.healthforteens.co.uk/feelings/anger-management/

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107 thoughts on “Hugging A Porcupine

  1. Love this article. This porcupine had so many things going on in his life. One of the things that stuck out to me is the fact that he’s dyslexic. We have to do a better job identifying these children earlier so they can get the proper resources they need! When this doesn’t happen these children withdraw and lose confidence and become destructive. Can’t blame them. Honestly this would help these children tremendously!!!

    • I agree 100% with you Lisa! Proper intervention at an early age is the key!! Schools really need to learn the signs of dyslexia and test early, not wait till the child is drowning!

  2. I married a porcupine and wanted to thank you so much for this post. I also think we should all remember that while teachers are well placed to help these children, the rest of us in society have to realize that they belong to us as well. You never know when a moment of acceptance or understanding, even from a stranger, might break through to someone, and that breakthrough may very likely save someone’s life.

    • That is a very true and powerful message you sent. Yes, it does take a village. I am a retired teacher of almost 40 years and realize there are many of us in each child’s life……not just his family and teachers. A child comes in contact with many people within a lifetime. We never know when we might be that person who will do or say something to a child that might
      live in their hearts forever.

      • Well said. And true. I was asked to teach a class of 12-13 year olds once a week. I was petrified of them and the curiculum. My very wise director told me to do what I could with the material, However, my responsibility was to love each child. To love each child as they questioned my intention in loving them, until they believed I loved them, and then to the secure knowledge that I loved them. 4.5 years filled with structure, boundaries, acceptance, earned respect and gifts of the heart…each one of us knew love.

  3. This is a lovely story. Is it based on an actual person you have encountered? I ask because such a happy ending is truly rare in these cases. I worked in a group home for children who had been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect while I went to school. I’m now an art teacher (K-12) so I definitely get the “he was ours” line. We did our best to place children in “we’ll hug the porcupine” type environments, yet developmentally after a certain stage the emotional damage is often permanent. Not that children can’t be happy, they just don’t learn to trust very easily, well, or at all. The heart of what you say–that as educators we have a chance to impact children’s lives positively if we communicate to them that we care–is spot on.

    • Margaret,
      Your comment is so true. It is so difficult to see a child with the porcupine curse! I have encountered many in the public school special needs classes as an assistant and now that I have witnessed the struggle of high school and the demons that have a hold on these kids, I am very skeptical about their futures. Many do not have dyslexia or other learning differences. Some are bright and ahead of their peers academically. To keep them in classrooms with learning differences is an injustice to them as well as the teachers. Public schools are not equipped to handle these students because they are extremely challenging. There are alternative schools but they are used as a temporary distraction and give only temporary relief to schools. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you since you are brave enough to work with these special kids. I appreciate all you do and hope that you have made an impact on some of your students.

    • I can’t say for the actuality of this story but I’m a teacher that took in one of my homeless 15 yr old students and he went from a .8 GPA his sophomore year to making Principal’s list his senior year. He went from not having ever thought far enough ahead to consider graduating to walking across the stage graduation night. He is my porcupine and I’m so thankful he’s also my son.

    • This echos my thought as I read the story. We as teachers can make an impact, but we need to see those opportunities early on and also remember we cannot adopt all the troubled kids that come our way.

  4. I hugged college level porcupines for 43 years. When I started grad school to get a PhD in English, the grad student advisor told me to go away. He said that no one was hiring teachers in colleges. Everybody wanted “lecturers and publishers.” After my first semester as a TA there were long waiting lists for my sections and all my section were overfilled. I always learned all their names and tried to treat them as individuals with their own traits. To extend the analogy, I’ve always thought that rabbits, dogs, bears, elephants, mice…all need hugs , too.
    My students always gave me excellent evaluations–and my grades were always slightly below average.
    Unfortunately, administrators mostly want lockstep syllabi, no matter what they do to students.

    • Thank you! I wish that teachers would realize that demographics does not equate to not being able to learn. It takes EXTRA effort and DEDICATION ABOVE & BEYOND many times to help these children learn to think farther than the present moment! I too love a child from a hard place. It’s not been EZ lots of times for either of us. But together with the help of his adopted family, he is seeing a different future and even made President’s List this year! His academic progress from when he initially came to live with us is beyond anyone’s wildest dreams for him (as he is on the Dyslexia/Dysgrpahia ‘spectrum’ and struggles with decoding & encoding accurately.

      I only wish that those from the school that took credit for this child in the article would have done a better job in remediating these students much sooner. Please give up on the Whole Language approach. It does not work for the majority of these struggling students! They need Orton-Gillingham and Structured Word Query approaches! And there are proven methods/programs out there as well for Math as well (Times Tales, Math You See, etc) which typically work amazingly well with students with the struggling learner profile.

      For many school is the one safe place they may have. But when they fall behind and their struggles are ignored day after day, year after year, never closing the gap or catching up to their non-LD peers, it wears away at them, on top of all of their other struggles.

      And, have you ever thought about the cycle of generational poverty and learning disability that many of these Title 1 students are born into? How can we stop that cycle? It’s not by ignoring the struggles of the student at school. How can a parent struggling with their own day to day needs, help their child in school? Many are just trying to make it through the day, hence why their children are not able to look farther ahead to the future. They too are strugglign to just make it through the day as well! 🙁

      Please do not pat yourself on the back too much as there is so much more work that is needed to be done in order to help change this cycle of illiteracy, innumeracy and poverty! Please do not add to their struggles by ignoring their overt signs of illiteracy and innumeracy! I’m not saying fail them, but HELP REMEDIATE them! Provide them with the technology to keep up by ear reading and using speech to text, etc. Just because they cannot read or write at grade level doesn’t mean that they cannot comprehend the same material by ear for instance. Help them to achieve to their cognitive ability levels (versus their levels of disability!)

      “Fill their buckets” because you may be one of the few that can do that for them too!

      Don’t give up on any of them. They just need to make that connection with somebody and their whole life can be changed!

  5. Wow, that’s all I can say right now after reading this wonderfully written post. It is so sad, so true, so enlightening, and so inspiring all at the same time. It makes me want to go hug my porcupines right now and give them the best education I possibly can. I want to help them prepare for their future, but most of all, I want to be there for them, in whatever way they need me. Thank you for writing this powerfully empathetic article to a world that needs it so badly!

  6. MR. MILLER, I have worked in a large public school district for many years and I just freaking (sorry can’t find a more professional word to quantify) LOVE this article! I have shared it with just about every fellow “porcupine hugger” I can think of in our schools this week and it has created quite a ripple effect. In fact, it even challenged one of our best guidance counselors to confess: “I guess I’ve sort of been the porcupine lately, haven’t I?” Thank you for reminding me why I became an educator. God bless all the porcupines AND those who hug them!

  7. Rob I absolutely LOVED LOVED LOVED this. You nailed it. I felt like I was reading something that I have had etched in my brain for years. I have been working with the kids you describe “like hugging a porcupine” for the past 31 years. We developed an evidence-based program called SNAP (stopnowandplan.com) to help “our kids” as you perfectly say improve self-regulation, emotion regulation, self-control and problem solving. Part of our work has been to bring awareness to this important issue – children with disruptive behaviour problems especially those who have experienced adverse childhood experiences. We created two PSA video’s “When you look at me what do you see… You don’t see me. My name is Kevin (Emma) and I can be more than this.” THANK YOU for being a champion for these kids! Wish we had more educators like you to support “all our” children. Leena

  8. Thank-you, Rob & Jwniffer!

    I appreciate your kind words and the “love” that I feel across the miles and chasms of space. These are such important places in the heart that need expression. To have them “find a home” in a blog, well….I can feel that and savor that as real.

    Thank-you!

    All my best to you in your ongoing journeys of love, compassion, and reaching “for”…..

    Scott 🙂

  9. Hi Crystal Cox:

    While I agree with you that eye exams at an early age are very important, they will not diagnose nor will they correct dyslexia. Unfortunately dyslexia is very misunderstood. Dyslexia is not a vision issue. The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as: “A specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.” Here is a link giving more detail: https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/dyslexia-what-it-is-and-isnt

    Dyslexia is recognized within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as a Specific Learning Disorder. Children with dyslexia need a specialized curriculum. https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/guidance-on-dyslexia-10-2015.pdf

    There is a condition called Irlen Syndrome or Scotopic Sensitivity that is a perceptual processing disorder. It is a problem with the brain’s ability to process visual information. Sometimes colored overlays or lenses can help individuals with this condition better process texts. Irlen Syndrome and dyslexia are entirely different.

    • Please also check out http://www.dyslexia.com for a hands-on methods to bring out alternative “gifts” from dyslexia symptoms and their different ways of processing input, This was life changing for my 2 intelligent, yet reading challenged children, who are now both college graduates.

    • My child is dyslexic. Sillivan Learning Center and Irlen Institute are THE two things that help my daughter go and become a strong learner at the college level. Not the public education she received. It was a fight the entire twelve years. They wanted to reduce her work, why she was capable.
      I was in a meeting with four educators, with over a hundred years of teaching experience and was told they did not believe in dyslexia.
      I just want my daughter to be a well adjusted, self supporting adult that is able to contribute to society. I wanted the public school system to want that too. So sad to report that is not always the case. So hug your porcupines, encourage the parents that are trying to back you and come together as a team so we all can learn together.
      By the way, my daughter went on to be on the college Dean’s list and graduate. She also was the first case in Alabama that BCBS recognized and paid for part of her therapy at Sillivan’s. The Irlen colored lens has continued to make a HUGE difference in her success.
      Thank you. I would love to speak with anyone about this for I’m very passionate about it.

  10. Thank-you for this important testimony on the essential love that we all need to “pour” into our students and young community members. My wife and I were foster providers for 9 years. We invited 23 young people into our homes and our lives, from two days old to 18 years old. One we adopted. Sam “made” it all the way from 5 years to age 30, before the internal ravages of PTSD from early childhood abuse and two tours of duty in the Mid-East took his life in an accidental drug overdose.

    My heart goes out to Jenny Donaldson above, because I not only understand her message, but can viscerally and spiritually “feel” it. She is right. And so are you.

    We just need to try. We are compelled to LOVELOVELOVE as teachers, as parents, as adoptive parents, as foster providers, as adult community members. We cannot stop reaching “for” them, even when can’t actually reach them.

    Many stories do end in tragedy. A few are “Hallmark Hall of Fame” kind of movies. But each of them are happening in real time and need our best love.

    My wife is a therapist, and I am a teacher. We have two “natural made” children who are doing well. They lost their brother two years ago as we lost our son. The pastor in his eulogy shared, “Sam was a broken vessel. If love alone could have saved him, he would be with us today….”

    No lost faith. No lack of compelling to keep on keeping on. No lost love of life and living it. But now four broken hearts (and many more) that sometimes love is not enough. Lesson for us? Keep pouring it on and savor the very lives in front of us in the very moments we share. Hearts now deeper. Now richer. Now fuller. Now with a giant hole.

    • Wow, what a beautiful message you shared, Scott. My condolences for your broken heart and my compliments for your open heart. You have been a hero for at least 23 young people and your devotion and love has made a difference in each one’s life. Thank you for taking the time to comment!

  11. WOW! Powerful! Maybe I’m in the wrong frame of mind tonight but; as the mother of one son who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder; learning disabilities; and ADD and was murdered 28 months ago tomorrow, age 36–after living an adult life of addiction…and a SECOND son also diagnosed with learning disabilities and ADD as well as Asperger’s and alcoholism…maybe I should have OD’ed in the back seat of a drug dealer’s car years ago? THEN would my sons have gotten the help they both so desperately needed? What happens AFTER age 18? High school graduation? I’m here to tell you NOTHING happens…they just plain struggle and no matter HOW much you love them; HOW on their side you are’ HOW there is NOTHING you wouldn’t do to save them…you just plain CAN’T. I’m sorry about the pity party….but maybe I’m really NOT. I love both of my sons with all my heart and I feel SO helpless and hopeless about both of them. Will you post this ugly truth????

    • I am so sorry to read your story, Jenny. You have endured tremendous tragedy. And, you’re absolutely right. Many of these wonderful children are not saved. The purpose of this post was to encourage us to keep trying as long as we can. Bless you and all those who are struggling with devastating loss.

    • Yeah, I wonder too. Our experience with our two sons was that we had to fight tooth and nail to get our porcupines accepted (there would be no way to get them loved — maybe by one or two teachers) by the school system. And their only handicaps were ADD and “giftedness” (which under TN law must be treated like any other handicap). (There’s no box for “social awkwardness” or “slow social development” or they’d both qualify for that.)

      But the younger is 26 and is not ready to live independently as an adult. The older is 31 and I’ve lost contact with him, and so have several government agencies and banks and . . . . He’s living a successful life in the sense that he’s not dead yet, but it’s not successful in according to “normal” standards.

    • Yes, the article tugged all the right heartstrings. But the implication was that the child’s problems were 100% the fault of bad parenting, and some good adoptive parents plus devoted teachers turned him into a happy and successful child. The moral is not to give up on the difficult students; I agree there. But our daughter was clearly not in the normal range behaviorally from earliest toddlerhood, and it took tremendous efforts to get help – from paid therapists (cash of course, insurance runs out fast) to teachers to pediatrician s, and excellent and loving parenting if I do say so myself. All to no avail. She is an unemployed and unemployable adult now. We haven’t given up and love her, of course. The school didn’t really help. Many teachers threw her out of their classes. All because of severe social anxiety, selective mutism, OCD, and other quirks which turned into frustration, depression and rage by high school. Very high IQ by the way. Am I sad at her unhappiness and wasted potential? My heart broke long ago. But the main point I wanted to make is that just loving kids who are experiencing mental illness is not enough. We are in the infancy of understanding and treating mental illness. So much needs to be done.

    • I agree. Where was all of this care and attention for my struggling child? The public schools failed my child with dyslexia, dysgraphia and ADHD. The schools denied there was a problem over the years and left her an anxious and suicidal shell of a girl in 4th grade. As a parent, I had no idea where to turn as the school kept claiming she didn’t need an IEP. My child only survived through outside tutoring and eventually being pulled from public school. She is now a happy, successful girl in private school with some outside support.

      Yes, the teacher in this article did an extraordinary thing for a young person and I think that’s great. However, let’s not forget the teachers that berate and humiliate our kids with learning disabilities on a daily basis, while the districts deny the child has learning issues to save money, leaving our children broken and in despair. Good thing my child didn’t have a home life like the one in the article or she would probably be dead. In her case, the public school teachers didn’t save her. Quite the opposite.

    • I have a 18 year old that barely graduated high school,praise our Lord;He did, though he is kind of lost, he has some minor adhd, add, suffer of depression and some anxiety, shame on me for not taking to a specislist, I didnt, I still don’t believe in drugs for those things. Though, he smokes cigarettes who knows since when, when he gets the chance hevsmoke pits or gets drunk, he moved out of the house for a little over a year, and he is back home now. Is painful seeing him with no motivation to do anything. I m a single mom, and dad has been out of the picture for over 10 years. I wish I could have found people who would have help him but I didnt, I still don’t. I have a church family though they do not know either how to handle this things.

  12. Rob,
    You warm my heart. I’m am a mother to a porcupine who is now 27. The emotional struggles and stigmas associated with any child who is not viewed as “normal” is heart wrenching for the child and family. I’m fortunate enough to be able to share my story in an upcoming book which will be released in September. Thank you for writing such a beautiful piece. XO

  13. I’m a school superintendent. I’ve shared this with my staff and my superintendent colleagues. I’ve been a superintendent for 10 years and often send out articles like this. I have never received more immediate responses!

    If this isn’t what we’re all about, we should all be looking into a new profession! Thank you for putting your thoughts and beliefs into such amazing words. I think every new teacher candidate should read this before they decide to venture into our very noble, impactful and meaningful profession!

  14. I am 68 years old and I was a porcupine. I was severely emotionally and mentally abused by my mother from about the 3rd grade up until my marriage at 22. When I was in high school, a counselor told me one day that the staff was aware of my situation but, unfortunately, they were not allowed to do anything about it. They did adjust my schedule so that I could come in every morning and get myself calmed down and situated for the day. I graduated at the very bottom of my class because I had been told, and believed, that I was useless, hopeless and not worth the ground I stood on. In grade school, I was terrified to go home at night because I was told that there would be a big black car in the drive to take me away. I could go on but you get the idea. I have just in the last couple of years been able to believe in myself and know that I am worthy of a life. If only there had been the help and the teachers who are trained to help, hug and encourage those porcupines back then. What a difference they could have made for so many! Thank you for your wonderful article and the insight it has into these children.

    • I’m so right there with you Sue. Amazingly my name is also Sue/Susan/Suzy. I am that porcupine that was in school. So desperately looking for someone to love and notice me, not use and abuse me. I am the daughter of a sexually abusive father and verbally emotionally and physically abusive mother. Though younger than you I too went to schools where help was not available. I went to a church where help was not available. People saw me and wanted to use me up. I turned away from God and became alcoholic and sex addicted. Searching again for someone to love me for me. The schools do nothing to recognize these children need help and love and hope. I found hope, I found Jesus. I also went thru years of counseling after years of acting like what was thought of as a fool on the job because once again NO ONE UNDERSTOOD the demons and darkness in my mind and heart. I thank God daily for the healing I rec’d the past several years and am now able to help others thru it to healing on the other side. There is hope…… God and his love can remove the demons…..by no means am I perfect now but I know that I am loved.

      • SA, I know very well how God can heal and help those without hope. My demons followed me day and night also. One night, I woke up sobbing and at that point I was totally overwhelmed by memories and pain. I asked God to help me put it all into perspective. Within seconds I felt the weight lift and the memories and hurt were still there but it was as if they had been put into a box and stored away. I still think about them occasionally but they no longer have the power to hurt me as they did. I have no idea what caused the abuse but I am not sure I care anymore. It’s over and with God’s help it will stay that way. Children deserve much more than they often receive from the adults in their lives. May heaven bless those who do help and encourage these kids to be the best they can be. May God also bless you and your healing heart.

  15. I love that you and your district came through so well for this young man (and most likely many others ).
    I have a 21 year old daughter with many challenges and our experience (despite being parents who are very present and supportive of her) was quite different.
    It is wonderful to see your encouragement for all to “hug the porcupine”❤️?

  16. Wonderful narrative, beautifully written. Touched my heart. This is the attitude we need in all educational situations.

  17. This is a moving piece, though for me it’s an amalgamation of several students. I’ve never had one student who had all these experiences, but every year I have multiple students with one or more. And every year, among my 120-140 students, most if not all of the separate things that happened to the kid in this story happened to at least one (and usually more) of my students.

    I have a lot of these “porcupines”. Each of them needs something different. Some particularly need to be acknowledged. Some particularly need to be valued. Some particularly need to be listened to. Some particularly need to be fed.

    It’s wishful thinking to believe that many of them will “recover their smiles” and turn their lives around so quickly. Yes, these “porcupines” are worth the effort, but the reality is that it will be an ongoing effort over decades, not just a few heroes for a few years. And one of the most important parts is teaching them how to find help when they’re no longer at school, and they’re adults who are expected to self-advocate.

    • You’re right, Jeff. Sadly, most of these stories do not end as cleanly and happily as this one. A blog format is naturally limiting when trying to tell this kind of complicated story. The last few paragraphs are the real message I was trying to share. Thanks for your response!

    • Well I’m going to keep my “wishful thinking” for these kids long after they leave me. I don’t live in a fantasy world but a hopeful one that somehow I will make some type of positive impact on every child I come across. You don’t realize how sometimes it is just the experience of that “one hero” that keeps a child from going completely off the deep end. When a child lives in a world of darkness and trauma, sometimes that one person becomes a light that gives the child hope that all is not lost even long after that person has left the scene. Yes, sometimes it may take decades, but it can happen. And GOD bless the child who has a few heroes for a few years, that’s even better.
      Trust me, I know.

  18. One of the most moving stories that I have read in a long time! This is why we are teachers, teaching assistants and staff. We make a difference in our kids lives. I refer to the kids in our high school special needs classes as our kids and I always tell everyone we encounter that are classroom is where we live and our kids love when I say that. We truly do “live there” and our wonderful caring staff and our students are a family! !

  19. What a great read! Especially this time of year. Being a middle school special education teacher has given me my fair share of porcupines and I can’t lie…they usually end up being some of my favorites.

  20. An inspiring story! A must shared one especially to teachers who sometimes forgot the reason why they are into teaching. That teaching is not just to teach kids to be academically competent … IT IS TOUCHING LIVES bridging it until a child build his own confidence and be ready to be productive and create his fruitful life

  21. Rob, I began reading your story without even realizing you were the author. The message was powerful and the tale SO well written. (you must have been listening outside my classroom at JEMS when we taught together 🙂 ) All kidding aside, thank you for your unconditional love of kids and your insight into the depths of their complicated world. Your article touched me greatly and made me pause to wonder if I had hugged “enough” porcupines in my 30-year career. I hope so!
    Just know that you always were and will continue to be an inspiration to me and I’m sure to all whose paths you have crossed, not only in the field of education but also in life! Keep up your important work and know that I will always be one of your biggest fans!

  22. The story says it all. The one thing that these kids need is to have someone show them undying love. When the SRO’s couldn’t handle some of the children all it would take was for me to take off my glasses and go get my hands on. I would have to wade through punches in order to give a back rub or a gentle hug. These kids will always need support and the best way is to give them the love they need.

  23. As a father of two young boys on the spectrum, thank you so much for writing this. It means more than I can ever explain.

  24. My child was a porcupine. Not to the extent of this kiddo but a no BS, tell it like it is kid. I got called in to the school for a meeting where I was basically ambushed by 6 teachers. I don’t know what they were expecting but I felt like I was in the principals office. The main thing I remember is the beautiful blonde teacher making the statement…”all the popular kids like her”. Hmmm…so teachers do classify kids into cliques is what I took away from that meeting. And the ” non popular” kids know it and feel it. Be careful teachers….you can have a negative effect if you aren’t careful. Oh…and her Daddy and in are still married, aren’t addicts and never abused them…some kids are just more challenging. She’s 20 now and happy but still remembers her middle school experience in a negative way.

    • I hated that ambush meeting (that was a private school). I was told that they couldn’t make accommodations for my daughter because she was “too proud”. Why couldn’t they tell me beforehand what the meeting was about?

  25. Love this story. It’s about bringingining out the best in people and those who manage to do it. We are all connected in mysterious ways we can barely imagine. And we are all playing on the same team. Thanks for sharing.

  26. Very true words. I have a child of my own graduating in May that faced loss, academic struggles, and made a singular mistake that caused a half year suspension. The suspension “broke” him. He already felt that only one teacher ever really cared about him – and now he is a distant learner. However, that one teacher has him twice a day, fought for him when others didn’t, encourages him and is the reason he decided to continue at his high school. I gave him the option of on line charter because he was so devastated but that ONE teacher kept him there. My son isn’t really a porcupine, more of a turtle – but it just took one teacher to pull him out of his shell a little. He graduates in May, still broken, but the glue is starting to dry and repairs are still being made.

  27. Tanirk, I ‘pulled my child out of school’ when I discovered that their idea of educating her was going to be determining what she could and could not do before she’d even gotten started. Though she has a chromosomal anomaly, she can read (on about a 5th grade level), has extremely good handwriting, can do basic calculations, can prepare simple meals, and so on. Her brother, who was already writing and calculating well before school age, homeschooled until high school. He received early acceptance to a top tier university, is happily married, and is now the youngest IT auditing manager at a fortune 500 company. Homeschooling is so terrible…NOT!

  28. The effect of childhood trauma can be overcome with counseling, someone who cares to look past the easy labels to dig deeper, and with love. Look up adverse childhood events…ACES study….very interesting….

  29. A veey compeling story. My son got his teaching degree and we on to teach challenged high school children. It was the most challenging and rewarding thing he’s ever done. He changed several lives for the better. I am so proud of him and of this young man for not giving up. I hope he continues on the right path. Thanks for sharing this story.

  30. Wow – thank you for taking the time to write and post this wonderful story. My mom was a teacher, and I do remember seeing her sit at the table after dinner, grading papers and occasionally crying over not being able to reach a certain student. As a parent myself, I appreciate all that you teachers do for our children.

  31. I was once that porcupine, somehow I graduated high school with a 1.0 GPA 17 years ago. Now I have been in college for the last two years with a 3.5 GPA to become a teacher working specifically with kids that are labeled emotionally disturbed. I plan to be the teacher I wish I had when I was in school.

  32. This is a core belief of educators who see public education as more than a career but as their vocation. Teaching the whole child and maintaining care for the humans they are is a balancing act to keep them learning and growing. This profession is critical to our society’s continued success. We need great teachers who are determined to teach all children!

    • This is a beautifully written Porcupine encounter! God is in the Schools within the hearts and minds of our teachers who duke it out every day for many years.
      My own daughter teacher is retiring after 32 years of classroom teaching and sports coaching at the Junior High level. Who can say they have touched so
      many lives as our teachers.

  33. Thank you for these thoughts. I am a special ed teacher and this speaks to me, but it was loudest thinking about the three year anniversary of adopting one of my sons (he is 19 now and graduates this year). His family that originally adopted him and his biological brother from Poland (ages 7 and 5) just gave up on him and my husband and I were blessed to welcome him to our family. We got another call 6 months ago from the brother who was heading down the same path and now we are adopting him. I look at the oldest and he went from failing 8th grade to now graduating high school with honors and the youngest failing his first two years of high school, moving here 6 months ago and getting a 3.3 Love, structure and a great support system with school, family and community can make the biggest difference.

  34. This is exactly how I felt about every child or adult who came into my school or program I ran. I looked at them as if they were a kindergartner coming to school for the first time. It didn’t matter if they were 5 or 15 or 25 or 45 or 85. This person I invited into my life deserved the very best I could give. And, I treated each one as if they were my own child. It’s what they deserved from me, nothing less.

  35. I know them well! I was the teacher that others came to and said, “Oh, I see you have him/her in your class! I really feel sorry for you! I always did the best I could for them, each and every one. Thank you for sharing my thoughts and feeling with your article.

  36. I am the mom of a porcupine, not to the extent of this young man, but a porcupine none the less. I am so thankful for the few teachers and aides who weren’t afraid to hug a porcupine.

  37. This is a heavy “piece of work” but a good one. I went from goose bumps to tears reading it. It’s so sad that children have to grow up like that. Everyone has a teacher who they feel influenced their lives. Teachers can make a huge difference in a child’s life. God Bless them for being there.

  38. Nice story with a happy ending! We should all be thankful for the wonderful work done behind the scenes in our schools as staff build or try to build caring relationships with hurting kids. Sometimes, we don’t get to see happy endings and the porcupine quills remain sharp and difficult to touch. This does not make hugging any less right. Sometimes we need to do the work we do not because we expect the happy ending, but because it is the right thing to do!

    • “Kudos.” ? It’s a weird word – don’t know where it came from, but that’s the spelling. And I agree – kudos to all who help kids like him.

  39. Wow! What an excellent article! So true and so sad for the children who do not have teachers like you have ever described. My nephew is autistic and was out into a public school where he was ridiculed and made fun of by the other children. The teacher just didn’t know what to do with a young boy like this, and that is too bad. I wanted and encouraged her to try a different school, maybe one that specialized in dealing with children with autism. However, after an incident of one child making fun of her son, my sister made the choice to homeschool him. and although I felt that she was wrong in doing so since he wouldn’t have any interaction with kids and learning social skills, he has turned out to be great young man! He “graduated” last year and by that I mean that he will never be able to pass the GED test. I was proud of my nephew, yet at the same time, a little frustrated that he wasn’t given the opportunity to have a teacher that would get a hold of him and work with him and give him the skills and confidence to be able to graduate high school for real. I feel like he should have been able to move on to college, if he wanted to, have a career, get married and peup0pp.rhaps have children of his own, it is too bad that my hovering, over protective sister has stopped him from those opportunities because she pulled him out of school way too fast and he was never given the chance to have amngv55575k

    • He can certainly go on to college and all the other experiences life has to offer him. Just because he was homeschooled doesn’t mean he can’t go on to have a “normal” life!

  40. Rob:

    I appreciate this post on every level! I can’t help but wonder what giving this dyslexic child the proper reading intervention ( an Orton/Gillingham based program such as Wilson, Barton, or one of the many others) would have done for his confidence and self esteem in his early school years. His home-life would have still been a mess, but at least school could have been a place of respite – a place where he knew he could learn,make progress, feel useful and proud of himself. I know first hand what dyslexia does to a child’s self-esteem when they realize they aren’t learning to read and their peers are. My son was identified as having dyslexia in the first grade. His self-esteem was already suffering at the tender age of six! We had him privately tested and immediately began private tutoring. This was the life line he needed. He is now 10 reading at a 4th grade level. He still reads slowly, but understands he has dyslexia and knows he is smart. Until our school systems begin to screen for dyslexia in Kindergarten and First grade and then use the proper reading interventions to teach these children in the way in which they learn we will continue to have children who suffer and lash out. We were fortunate to have the resources to privately test and tutor. This child did not and there are many others just like him. I applaud Sand Springs school district for understanding dyslexia and I look forward to the day when every school in Oklahoma provides the resources to meet the needs of the 1 in 5 children with dyslexia in their classrooms.

    • Our district says that dyslexia can’t be identified until 3rd grade. I would love to start testing in k and 1. It would save a lot of children and families years of frustration.

      • Yes! It would save children with dyslexia from wasting precious time when they could and should be learning to read! Thank you for realizing this. If you aren’t familiar with Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma please take a look at the website. This is a fantastic resource for Teachers and Parents alike. Decoding Dyslexia OK is also working with the Oklahoma Legislature to enact laws requiring schools to test early and properly remediate dyslexia. Teachers are a vital voice. Just yesterday, HB1789 by Rep. Canada and Sen. Pemberton passed the Senate floor. This bill is related to the Reading Sufficiency Act and will require certain teachers to receive quality education in certain instructional strategies – effective immediately. Decoding Dyslexia OK has worked with (and will continue to work with) our law makers to pass legislation that will benefit our struggling readers. As a first grade teacher you understand this can and should be addressed much easier than when a child fails the 3rd grade reading exam! According to the International Dyslexia Association early intervention or additional direct instruction (of a Structured Literacy Program) should begin as early as kindergarten or first grade for struggling readers when the gap is small and students benefit from rain plasticity advantages for learning language-based information.

        https://dyslexiaida.org/dyslexia-assessment-what-is-it-and-how-can-it-help/

        • My apologies for the typos above – should read “as a first grade teacher you understand this can and should be addressed much earlier (not easier) than when a child fails the 3rd grade reading exam.

          Also — a Structured Literacy Program should begin as early as kindergarten or first grade for struggling readers when the gap is small and students benefit from BRAIN (not rain) plasticity advantages …

          *could not find anywhere to edit my post

      • Sounds like your district needs to be educated on dyslexia. Waiting until 3rd grade is like waiting until all the air is out of your car tire to say you have a flat – you’ll have a lot more to fix if you wait that long.

  41. Rob, you are an amazing writer who has the gift of capturing and communicationg the passion that great educators have for their missional calling to educate and care for children. To those who say we need to put God back into public education, I would say, He has always been there, doing His work through the teachers, administrators, counselors and even office staff and custodians who show children the face of Christ through their love and through “hugging porcupines!” Thank you for sharing your heart.

    • Occasionally some will come back and find you as two of them found me this year (after 12 and 8 years)! They remember the days of trust and love, but they just couldn’t recognize it at such a young age. Today I’m teaching them even more about trust and love. One says he doesn’t know what love is and the other one says “honestly it feels weird.” And the teaching goes on simply because teachers never give up on their students… even years later!

  42. Love me some porcupines. These kids have a way of finding me. Even when I try to hide from them. They can be hard to love sometimes, but once they trust you, they love you, forever!!

        • As a parent of a child with dyslexia I disagree with that general characterization of Special Ed kids being a porcupine zoo as well. These children are SMART and they want to please and be “normal”. Perhaps they become a bit prickly because we are not meeting their needs. “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its entire life believing that is stupid.” – Albert Einstein. “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – Albert Einstein. We must teach children who have dyslexia with Structured Literacy. Currently our departments of Higher Ed in Oklahoma do not teach Special Ed teachers or classroom teachers how to recognize dyslexia much less how to actually teach these children. Dyslexia is the most common learning disability affecting up to 20% of the population. We have to do better for these children or they become porcupines because we have failed them!

          • This is not about dyslexia and shame on you for trying to make it so. It’s about going above and beyond to help an obviously troubled child in need. It’s about the fact that many people in this village that we need to raise all oyr children failed to do so for many years. It’s about encouraging people to just be compassionate and reach out to children in need.

          • It seems to me that you don’t understand Miller’s definition of a “porcupine”. Any child that challenges you, any child in trouble who may need a little extra love, a little extra attention, a lot more patience, any child who may require you to go above and beyond the basic standards of education is a porcupine. That includes children in special education and all those children who are forced to experience life in a way that NO child should have to endure. I’m printing and laminating this post on my wall in my room to remind me of the children’s side of the story; which many times we don’t get to see-we only see the behavioral manifestations of their experiences.
            Thank you Mr. Miller for this profound post.

          • Actually many children who are diagnosed as dyslexic can recover using vision therapy because they have an undiagnosed vision disorder. That’s why it’s important to get kids to an eye doctor early just to check in because by the time most kids see one they’ve had problems for multiple years.

  43. This article spoke volumes to me. I see this in my own children, as well as my school children. I love them each fiercely-porcupines and all. Thank you for sharing this.

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