Each year when I taught elementary school there was that one kid. The one who made my life as a teacher extra hard. The one who challenged everything I did. The one that pushed all my buttons and made my hair turn gray. For discussion’s sake, I will call him Clyde.
Clyde was known for bullying all the kids he encountered. He had countless referrals and I was always gathering packets of work for him to complete during his three-to-five-day stint at In School Suspension. In all honesty, I enjoyed the days he was absent from my class. We were able to get lessons done without interruption and there was such a peace in my classroom.
Monday mornings were the worst for Clyde. His home life was tough, and he brought his anger to school with him, picking fights down the hall as he made his way to my classroom. One particular Monday, I noticed Clyde was walking strangely. As he approached the classroom, I realized he had a cast on his leg and was using crutches.
It’s hard to admit, but I was glad he broke his leg. Maybe it would humble him and he would be a little nicer. Maybe he would need to ask for help and accept assistance from others. Maybe he would settle down and learn to be respectful for a change.
Wishful thinking didn’t make it true. The next day, I got a call from the office. Clyde was sent to In School Suspension, this time for beating someone up with his crutches! I couldn’t believe it. I just knew this would be the one thing that calmed him down and changed his behavior.
What I learned, though, was I expected Clyde to change; but what I failed to realize until much later was that my attitude towards Clyde was what needed to change. He was Clyde. I couldn’t expect anything else. But I could change my heart and figure out ways to show Clyde love, kindness, and value.
As I looked in the mirror at my gray hairs this week, I thought about Clyde and how much God taught me through that little boy. By the end of the year, Clyde’s behavior finally improved, not because he made the right choices, but because I made the effort to love him well. I went out of my way to make him feel special, give him classroom jobs, and praise him along the way. He knew he would have his place in my classroom no matter what. And whether he realized it or not, he weaseled in there and found a spot in my heart, too.
Sometimes it’s the hard cases that challenge us the most; the ones who frustrate, annoy, or bully. But we can’t expect them to be different, we have to be different. We must show them love. We must show them kindness. We must show them value.
So, who’s your Clyde? How do you need to change your response?