All means all

downloadIn the education world, it is understood that we are educators for ALL children.  We are champions for ALL children who enter our school buildings each and every day.  Not just some children, but ALL children.  Think about what “all” means.  All children – regardless of race, gender, income, family background, class, socioeconomic group, intellectual ability, size, shape, or religion – deserve an education.  We teach them all. Period.

Easier said than done.  Educating students is one of the most mentally challenging and physically exhausting professions in the world.  Managing students and their behavior is a daily struggle of  their will vs your will and it gets more difficult as they get older.  What do you do when a student comes to school unprepared?  How do you treat the student who has daily behavior problems?  When do you do when a student is violent or aggressive towards other students, teachers or administrators?  Do you write them off as “unteachable”?  How do you reach the angry defiant student who has that look in their eyes that says, “don’t talk to me”?  Do you just ignore that student and chalk that one up to a total loss?

We are all guilty at some time or other in our education careers of writing off a student.  It’s easy to do, especially when there is no parent calling and following up on their child.  When the family unit is broken, the household is run by a single parent who works the night shift,  the car is not working, the water bill wasn’t paid and now they cannot take a shower; then that parent is very unlikely to be involved in the education of their child.

It’s easy to gloss over that one student and give them the bare minimum.  Those students are easy to dismiss, especially the repeat offenders with a list of discipline offenses as long as the Mississippi River.  As educators, at some time in all of our careers, this thought has crossed our mind: “Hey, if the parents don’t care, why should I?”  After all, we are human too.  We have all had the student I am describing in our classrooms.  We like to put them in the corner where they are less likely to disturb others, and if they happen to fall asleep, just let them.  At least they aren’t causing any problems in the classroom.  After all, they are going to fail anyway, right?

But let me offer you this story.  The student I just described to you is on my campus.  He’s an angry young man.  He has that defiant look in his eyes.  He is not polite or respectful.  He walks and talks in a threatening way.  Every time he’s been in my office, it hasn’t ended well.  He leaves cussing, bowed-up, fists clenched, threatening everyone within earshot, and slamming doors.  He has been in ISS or DAEP more days this year than he’s been in the classroom.  Needless to say, he is failing every single class.  When his name is spoken, everyone rolls their eyes with “the look”.  I will be the first to admit, my first impression of him was: he’s unteachable.

Yesterday, he came to my office and asked me to print his report card.  As I was pulling up his academic records, he spoke softly and told me the coaches had been watching him and had asked if he’d ever thought about playing football.  I printed his report card and handed it to him.  He stared at it for a minute in silence and then looked up at me.  I had to do a double take.  Gone was the defiant, hardened look and the set jaw.  He spoke quietly and asked, “What can I do to bring my grades up so I can play next year?”  That one statement shook me to the core and humbled me.  I immediately felt guilt because here in front of me was a young man asking for help.  I had written him off based on his discipline record and his poor performance in the classroom.  Shame on me.  He is failing miserably and no one has reached out to him.

I felt so much shame for forgetting that I am a champion for ALL students, including this one.  I took a deep breath and began counseling him.  The entire time he was in my office, which was all of ten minutes, he didn’t once threaten me or raise his voice.  This was a different child than the one I’ve seen every time before.  I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing.  We came up with a plan to help him bring his grades up and improve his discipline record. I asked him to come to me if he needs any help at all in reaching his goal of playing football next year and I meant every word of it.

As I left school yesterday, I had to reflect on why I entered the arena of public education: to be a champion for ALL children.  I recommitted myself to ALL students, especially this one young man.  He has a long hard road ahead of him, but if he’s willing to try, then so am I. He will probably never know the lesson he taught me yesterday, but it’s one I won’t forget: ALL means ALL.