Bear with me, this is more than a cliche.
Last night we celebrated my daughter’s birthday with a BBQ for family and friends. I had the incredible pleasure of having an extended conversation with one of her friends, a young man 25 years old, who I have always liked, but could have never said why. It was a teacher thing. This young man has pulled himself out of the “hood” from a family with problems. At the end of our conversation, I more than liked this young man, I admired and respected him. We talked about how some children come from troubled homes and hide their problems when at school so no one will know or see their pain and what that behavior looks like.
We talked about the school were he went for most of his elementary school years. I know the school and it too has been pulled up by its bootstraps out of the gutter of gang fights, drugs, low academic standing etc… I have worked in several Category 2 inner city schools and struggled with my upper-middle class view points. I told him a story of a young boy in one of my classes who I had tried very hard to reach all year. He also came from a family in crisis. One afternoon, during an art class, I sent him to get some more paper as we had run out. He had to leave the building, cross a small parking lot to the second school building where the office was. This was not an issue, we did this with the students all the time, out of necessity. The day I sent my student, the door, unknown to me, was locked. He was gone for a longer time than he should have and I sent a student to find him. When he came in he was very, very upset. The look on his face was one I could not complete decipher at first. He was upset and angry and I got that, but there was more that I couldn’t figure out. When I asked him why he didn’t bang on the door or come to the class window he began to get more upset and shut down. It was the look in those deep, dark brown eyes that drilled through me and impaled me to the wall. It took me days to figure it out. I had to shift my point of view from myself to him. He had been in the one place where he would be safe with the one person in his life he knew cared and he trusted. The look in his eyes was betrayal. I had accidentally, over a locked door, betrayed his trust. Whatever happened at home to cause this reaction, I had managed to repeat at school.
This story opened the young man at my home to tell me his story. This is why we get up each morning, unlock our classroom doors while balancing the mug of ever present java on top of a pile of marked papers to begin the day, fresh and new from yesterday. He told me of his grade 7 teacher at the school we had been discussing. This teacher took a vested interested in this young man. He had him do small projects on the computers at recesses, had him help build the ice rink outside and give out the skates at recess. He kept him out of the gangs and got him to stop fighting. I quote, verbatim: “He saved my life.”