My job as an educator is to be a servant to others; my students, their families, fellow staff members, and the community. Sometimes we get a student who needs to be loved. And sometimes we get a student we have to fight for. Let me share with you this story, the story of a student worth fighting for. Because one day, you may have a student you have to fight for.
A Student Worth Fighting For Comes
Once upon a time in an absolutely real world of Kindergarten, a little boy showed up at my school and was welcomed into my classroom. He didn’t smile, why would he? His story was as sad as they come and his baggage made his head almost impossible to tilt up. The details don’t really matter to others because they are his story to tell when he is ready.
This boy’s family knew school would be a struggle, but they also knew he absolutely needed to be in school and he needed to get an education. They knew it was going to be hard on them, on me, on the class, but most specifically this boy.
We Have to Reach Them Before We Can Teach Them
He wasn’t ready to learn. Nor was he wasn’t ready to trust or feel safe. He wasn’t ready to be a classroom full of children or in a lunchroom packed with students or even on a playground with no safe place to hide. Simple, he really wasn’t even ready to be loved. But we have to reach them before we can teach them.
Step 1: Keep Him Safe
Our first goal was to keep him safe. This was hard. I would say this was an impossible task that we somehow managed. I am still not sure how we did but we did. Without question, I was blessed with the full support of my administration and we had plans in place for him. I prayed daily I could keep him safe. Safe from himself and safe from his fears. If he could be safe, we had a chance. HE had a chance. This kid needed a chance. He needed someone to fight for him.
Step 2: Build His Trust
Once he felt safe, we hoped we to build his trust. Eventually I hoped he would feel some of our love. Maybe then we could reach him and then maybe we could teach him. I prayed daily that he would choose to run to me when he panicked instead of away. When I came to school everyday, I had to be ready to protect him and keep him. I would wait until no one was around and cry my fears to God that I couldn’t reach him and I wouldn’t be enough to help him.
Then it happened. One day he was without me and he panicked. I was immediately notified and went to get him. But, he did it. HE RAN TO ME. He felt safe with me. I broke through? Did I break through?
Step 3: Don’t Punish
First, we continued to work on keeping this student safe and we continued to build his trust. It felt like playing tug of war against an invisible team. You don’t know what you are pulling against and you don’t know how to win. But this student was worth fighting for. I didn’t care how calloused my hands got, I was pulling on the rope. I don’t care how tired my arms got, I was pulling on the rope. It was simple; I was fighting for him. He was worth fighting for.
Next, my administration did everything in their power to help him and me. They set up and notified me of the people who needed to come observe. I always said yes and made it easy to happen. His family also worked hard to get paperwork completed and appointments made. He has a team of people who saw that we don’t punish students who need help, we help them. One significant thing to mention is how much they supported me as a teacher. They saw my effort and never let me get discouraged. This was huge. Looking back, I can see how important this was for not just me, but my classroom, and this student.
Continuously, I would talk to this boy often and about anything and everything. I often asked his favorite color or what he liked to play. Anything to spark his conversation. Some of our talks here silly, normal and fun for a little learner! (He was in there! I could see little glimpse of him!) Some of our talks would shock your soul. If he trusted me to talk to me, then I listened. If he allowed, I would wrap my arm around him, gently squeeze his arm or hand, or give him a little pat while I told him I loved him.
Step 4: Fight for Their Success
How do you teach a child you can’t reach? You can’t. But while you are reaching him, you set that student up for their path of success. This means filling out all the paperwork and documentation. Then, it means hosting all the observers and personnel. Next, it means communicating the ins and outs of the day with those who need to know. Collaborating with school staff and guardians is also critical. Our goal was also the child, the student, and what he needed.
This means to do the work, then the more work, then the more work. I left many meetings in full sweat. More so, I stayed late filling in charts and documentation sheets before I could lesson plan or prep. I would love to say I was the wife or mother I wanted to be, but sometimes I just wasn’t. I couldn’t. My cup was empty. And that was okay because I believed in the greater good in this situation.
Step 5: His Steps
Since this story of the boy who is worth fighting for, I can’t disclose everything. I can’t tell you exactly what happened and how it happened. I can tell you that I did every single thing I could to set him up for success; so did my school and so did his family. We all made sure to make sure we all had this child’s best interest in mind. You see, we all fought for this student because he was worth it.
Here is What Happened
Here is what I can tell you. I saw a miracle happen. A slow and steady, bring you to your knees, transformation that was day after day after day. I believe I can use the word resilient to describe this child.
I ended the year seeing a boy who smiled. He laughed. I saw the child he was always able to be before my eyes. It wasn’t just beautiful. There isn’t a word for what it was.
You see, not only was he worth fighting for, in reality, we all showed him how to fight. When he found out he was worth it and how to fight for himself, we were finally able to reach him and then we were finally able to teach him.
My Role Was Not His Hero
I was not his hero. I was a person along his path who chose to love him, to fight for him, and to try to reach him. He has heroes who fight for him every day and can continue to fight for him at night and over school breaks, holidays, and summer. Those people are the real heroes. His story isn’t over. So I continue to pray and care and love. I hope you will as well.
And when you are given a student worth fighting for… please know it is worth it. THEY are worth it. Your struggles are worth it. You are not alone, but you are one critical piece in the fight.
Note: I wrote this with the permission of this students family. THEY are and will remain his true heroes.