Posted in: Uncategorized

I reach over and turn my radio down, as I watch him limp through the muddy grasstowards his trailer. Its a drizzly Monday afternoon. I wanted to wait and make sure he gotinside safely, but something about the view Im taking in is more poignant even than safety. Hesa scrawny fourteen year-old, with big brown eyes, and hair he bleached blond over the summer.

He carries his book-bag on one shoulder, and holds his coat over his head. As I look at him, Isee the things I know about him. Hes the second of five children. He and his older brother livewith his dad in this pop-up camper. He will stay here alone until they get back from work in a fewhours. His shoes and backpack are new, gifts from a local church. His coat is old, tattered, dirtysuede. It was his dads, and its his prize possession. For him, the sun rises and sets on hisfather, even though the man literally steals food and clothes from his children.

This kid. He isbrave, he is bold, he is deeply loving and sensitive. I make a mental note to look up his birthdaylater Hes probably a Leo. He has lived through tougher things than most people can everimagine, an overcomer by any standard. As he climbs the step into the camper, he slings hisbag inside, turns around and flashes me a grin. That is a visage I fought hard to know. Then, heholds up his hand with his thumb, forefinger, and pinky up. I smile, repeat the sign back to him,truly meaning it, and put the car in gear.

Driving home, I reflect on the impact hes had on my life. This child is my student, for thesecond year. Hes one of sixteen this year. Of the bunch, he is not unique in his poverty, familysituation, or difficult past. Our rural school district serves hundreds of students in situations akinto his. The first time that wide grin was directed at me, I determined myself to be a champion forthis boy.

He was not an easy student. Last year, it seemed to have been his personal goal tomake my transition to the school hell. He challenged me like no other student ever had. NothingId been taught in college or my previous teaching could have prepared me to deal with hisbehaviors, and lack thereof. I did everything I could think of to connect with him, searching forany avenue of forming a meaningful attachment with this surly, broken teenager. He usurpedthe majority of my time at school with his shut-downs and constant need for supervision whilewalking the halls. It mustve clicked somewhere along the line.

After a full year, the turn-aroundhes made in school is remarkable. His general attitude is improved, he controls his behaviorsand no longer shuts down on a daily basis. He participates in the general education curriculum,and hopes for a future. He wants to go to college, have a career.

This school year, I have barely paid attention to him, in favor of de-escalating one crisisafter another, and because hes fine. Last week, I had a meltdown of my own after school oneday. I havent spent an entire day teaching my self-contained students yet. I havent gotten toknow my sixth graders. Im burdened with feeling purposeless.

Today, watching this boy, a boldreminder of an answer I had in college resurfaces. Someone had asked me Why do you wantto teach special ed? Dont you think it will be hard? Dont the risks outweigh the rewards? Myreply resounds with me in this moment. I know I cant be everything for every student. Ill wantto change everything for everyone, and I wont be able to. It will probably drive me insane attimes. The reality is, to make a real difference for just one student, is enough reason for all ofthe trouble.

So maybe Ive made a lasting impact on this boy, who really only needed to feel loved.

And just maybe, I havent totally fulfilled my difference-making quota for a lifetime.

Read more: