Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Smallest Act of Caring

I need to share this story so that I will never forget it.

Although I would not normally share a personal story about a student, (and details have been changed to keep his identity secret), this is one of those stories that is a HUGE reminder that what I do is important and special.

Usually, students mature over the summer and naughty kids grow up a little bit. One year, a boy named Tommy, had been  acting completely different than he acted the previous year. This boy was so sweet and smart the year before, but on this particular year, I started to dread his class before I even saw them coming down the hall. I didn't want to be mean to the kid, but he was just so disruptive that I could hardly get through the lesson without getting frustrated with his behavior. I even mentioned it to his classroom teacher from the year before, and she said that other teachers have commented on how wild Tommy had become.

One day, the class was coming down the hall and I realized that they had a substitute. "Oh, great," I thought...generally, whenever a class has a substitute, bad behaviors are intensified and the normally well-behaved students are a little wiry from the lack of structured daily routines normally enforced by classroom teachers.

As soon as he walked up, Tommy said, "What happened to your hair?" as the class passed through the doorway. Immediately, I snapped (without thinking), "What happened to your face?" and then I looked at the substitute and cringed...hoping she had heard him be so rude, but somehow she didn't hear my completely unprofessional retort. I don't actually think Tommy heard me say it, because he didn't respond, but kept bee-bopping through the doorway as if it is completely normal to insult a teacher and get away with it.

I walked into class, closed the door, and got on with the lesson. I don't remember if Tommy was his usual interrupting self after that...I just tried to teach about mixing paint to create tints and shades.

About halfway through class, the principal came in and wanted to take Tommy out. Tommy left his painting sitting on the table.

Near the very end of art, with only about 6 or 7 minutes left, (everyone else was cleaning up and we were about to conclude) the principal brought Tommy back to art. He took me aside and said that Tommy had been in his office, meeting with family services. 'Could Tommy finish his painting? He really wanted to get back down here to art, so that he could finish it."

I don't know why Tommy was talking to a social worker, or whomever it was in the principal's office...I never asked....but students don't just meet with family services for was an immediate sign that something was going on in Tommy's home life. I had seen the signs all year. His behavior was drastically different than the year before.

Instead of showing Tommy a little more love, or given him opportunities for more attention, I had started to dread even being in the same room with him.

There he was, in the office, meeting with some stranger, about some situation at home, and all he wanted to do was be with me, in art, working on his painting.

I was mortified and embarrassed and ashamed that I had lashed out at the poor kid with "What happened to your face?!" when he is dealing with some pretty terrible stuff at home.

Being an art teacher, I can usually sense when something is going on with a child. It isn't necessarily that stuff comes out in their artwork, usually I notice a huge shift in behavior.

If a student suddenly starts acting oddly or misbehaving, I can tell that something is going on...perhaps the child is going to dad's for the weekend...or stayed up too late because parents were fighting....maybe the kid is living at Children's Haven or in foster care.

Rarely do I ever know the details about what is going on at home.  If I notice major changes, I will mention it to the classroom teacher and the counselor.

As I said before, I honestly never knew what was going on with poor Tommy...but his behavior started to improve after that. Or maybe, I started treating him a little differently because I had a little insight into the fact that something had changed at home and it was affecting his behavior. In any case, it is a huge reminder that no matter what, so you should always treat others with compassion because you never know what burdens they might be carrying.

Here are a few great quotes:

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong.  Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.  ~George Washington Carver

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.  ~Leo Buscaglia


Daydream Believer said...

Teaching is the most noble profession there is. Thanks for sharing your story. Hope Tommy is ok.

Unknown said...

Hi there!

I am a fellow art teacher myself! I taught Art in Florida for 2 years and moved to Rhode Island where I teach art at an after school program.

I can totally relate to you! I used to have this one student who came into art class and would do nothing the ENTIRE class! Once he thought it was funny to start throwing pencils and he wouldn't stop. The class was being horrible that day, so I slammed a bunch of paint brushes right down into the color palettes that sent a swoosh of paint all over me! I had white paint in me hair and all over one of my favorite dresses. Even though I look back now and think it was kind of funny that I did that I still cried after the class left! I'll try to find you on pinterest because I have a pretty good board with Art Lessons I can share! Love your blog and good luck!