Monday, November 3, 2008

The I Will Not Give Up On You Message

When I was a teacher my favorite students were always the "throw away" kids. I still have a special place in my heart for them. These are kids that someone along the way gave up on. Often, it was teachers, sometimes it was parents.

One of the neatest kids I ever taught was Danny. When I received the articulation card from his previous teacher it said, simply, "no redeeming qualities". He had the best sense of humor and was incredibly smart. An amazing kid. Too bad that teacher missed out on the joy he brought to a classroom.

There was Robbie, whose mother was dying of breast cancer, and who had spent most of his school career in trouble because he was very busy "inventing" things during class. His desk was ridiculously cluttered. He had some contraption for holding pencils onto his desk and some other stuff inside his desk for keeping track of erasers, paperclips, coins, Pogs and other treasures. He was bright and always got his work done. I didn't care if he was inventing, as long as he was learning. I used to have the kids read biographies and create a puppet in the likeness of their subject then put on a puppet show about the person, inviting the kindergarten and first graders to attend. Robbie sat in the back of the room near me and I remember vividly the look of appreciation he gave me when the Walt Disney puppet that was "on stage" at the front of the room complained about his horrible school experience because his teachers squashed his creativity. His mother died that year, and so did George's (a whole different throw-away kid that I loved story... his mother died of, ummm... "liver problems" and then his father sent him away to military school in the years following). I took them both to the "family picnic" at the end of the year. They each wrote me thank you notes that were, by far, the best teacher gifts I ever received.

There were countless others along the way... someday I'll have to tell you about Diego the Bomb Builder, or Darrell who witnessed his mother's murder. But the one that got me thinking about all this was Wesley. Wesley came to me as a fifth grader hardly reading a word. He had no support at home and a sketchy attendance record. However, he showed up at school every day of fifth grade with a smile on his face and worked hard. Wesley's mother never bothered coming to anything at school, be it a class party, field trip, class performance or parent teacher conference, yet he always looked out into the audience or down the hallway... thinking that maybe, just maybe, this would be the day.

The amazing thing about my classroom is that there was this sense of positive interdependence among the kids and so they really became his support system and helped him be successful (they even took to making sure he had all of his materials that mom didn't send or replenish and helped him with homework afterschool when he was home alone). When I taught, Halloween parties were still legal in public schools and so Halloween came and Wesley, a tough, street-smart kid, came to me privately and in tears. He had no Halloween costume. I smiled at him and told him that, though it wasn't really a disguise because it happened to be true, that he did, in fact, have a costume. Using some construction paper, a crown (see, it always pays to have one handy), and other props from my classroom, Wesley led our class Halloween parade in arguably the best costume ever. He went as my favorite student.

So what's the point of all this? The point is that the message "I will not give up on you" is a powerful one and does not apply only to children who might otherwise fall through the cracks. It applies to us, as adults, who still thrive on positive feedback and a sense of accomplishment. In fact, I would argue that it also applies to us as we look at ourselves as athletes... overcoming adversity to train and race... healing from injuries, battling illnesses, finding balance with busy families, careers and tri training. Perhaps the ultimate definition of endurance is not only having the physical and mental capacity to handle imposed athletic demand but also having the ability to not give up on oneself, to find strength from within, even when your circumstances are less than perfect.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your inspiration to me about "just keep moving" echoes the don't give up ethos that you live.
The world would not be the same without it...and you.