Saturday, October 8, 2016

Helping, and Learning from, Robbie : A Simple Conversation Opened My Eyes

After 10 years of teaching and coaching in the community in which I live, I had become accustomed to running into current and former students and families during every trip to the grocery or Walmart. My daughter, on the other hand, hated shopping with me because it always meant an extra 5-10-15 minutes of "listening to Dad talk to strangers." But, in the fall of 2011 I had a different experience at Walmart.

Over the summer, I left my teaching position for an assistant principalship at another high school. I was nearing the end of what I had hoped would be a quick in-and-out visit when I heard footsteps behind me. "Robbie," a student whom I had taught the year before, approached me. "Hey, Mr. G. I can't believe you left. Do you believe I'm doing well in school?"

"Of course I believe you're doing well. There was never a doubt in my mind." Of course, that last part wasn't entirely true. As a matter of fact, it might be considered a flat-out lie.

Robbie was an extremely challenging student. Extremely intelligent, he lacked motivation.  He was part of our freshman transition program for at-risk students, and in my 17 years of teaching, he was one of the most frustrating students I ever taught. While he passed my class, I considered it a "loss" because his grade was not indicative of his abilities. His mother, who I corresponded with weekly, shared my frustrations. He failed multiple classes.

So what made this interaction different than hundreds of others just like it?

After nine months it wasn't until that moment that I realized I had connected with Robbie. The connection--one which I had not even realized existed--had taken time and patience. Robbie had been a behavioral and academic challenge, and despite all the headaches he had caused, I failed to recongize his personal growth and my positive influences on him until then.

We cannot expect instanteous change. Struggles precede progress.

The honest, daily conversations with Robbie, the constant communication with his mother, the undying belief in his ability eventually reaped their rewards. Robbie, who had experienced failure in school for many years, challenged me; he forced me to improve.

As educators we relish the moments when students reach out to us and say, "Thanks," but we must also savour the daily challenges and struggles that we undertake daily to ensure each student's success and growth.

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