“We have a visitor today, so I need everyone to be on their very best behavior because we have a lot to cover and just a little time to do it!” I smiled at my classroom of fourth graders. “Y’all make me look good, okay?” I winked and loud whispered, and the whole class laughed including our guest, a Healing Species board member, there to observe a class in action.
I’ll never forget that class. The semester had gotten off to a rough start. I had a few boys, who, although they had the best of intentions, could not seem to get along with one another long enough to hear or participate in any of the lesson. I had tried moving them, sitting down with them after class to have a talk of encouragement, and talking with the teacher. I cringed when they misbehaved, because the teacher would do what seemed most natural to her: take them out of Healing Species, because participation was considered a privilege. No! Don’t do that! I would think. They are who needs this the most.
I was teaching class one day about mid-semester, and the boys were starting their antics – the name calling, the scowls, the pent-up anger bursting to get out. I panicked on the inside and glanced quickly at the teacher, who was already rising from her desk.
“Nathaniel, can you help me pass out these papers?” I asked quickly.
“Yes!” and he scrambled quickly to the front of the room, proud to do something for the teacher.
“Ja’quan do you mind erasing this board for me, so it’s squeaky clean for your teacher?”
“Whoo! I’ll do it!” He jumped up.
“Jose, would you please wrap my TV cord up and put my folders in my bag while I take Beau around for dog time?”
“Yes, mam!” He smiled, happy to have a job.
After class, I called the three boys over. “Thank you so much for your help! Do y’all want some Beau time before we leave?”
“YES!” they all fell on Beau, petting his head and talking in dog voice to him. Beau sat there smiling, loving the attention.
“Next week, do you three think you could help me again?” I asked seriously.
“I’ll do it, Ms. Amanda.” “Me, too!” “Yes, mam!” They replied.
And so I had found my solution. Give the boys a job, something to do, a purpose. Their shoulders went back, they lifted their chins, and smiles filled their faces as they left the classroom.
Since then, our class had transformed. The boys who once had been the troublemakers were now the leaders, and they took this position seriously. They had always been leaders, just now, they were leading in a different way. I smiled over at our guest and asked if she would like to help give out Certificates of Completion with me. Today was our very last day, and we did a project, where the students “graduate” and as part of a compassion exercise, they made cards to thank someone special in their lives.
That class was phenomenal. My heart was full as they stood in the line and received their Certificates, shaking my hand with their shy, but proud smiles. Looking over at our guest, I could tell she was feeling it too. She had the look: appreciation, admiration, and wonder at these exceptional nine and ten year-olds. I looked on like a proud momma duck.
Nothing, however, could have prepared me for what happened next.
The students were leaving and saying their goodbyes and hugging me tight around the waist, when I got a tap on the shoulder.
“Ms. Amanda, I wanted to give you this.” One of my three boys were standing there, with a card.
“Oh my goodness, how wonderful!” I said as I opened it. It was truly beautifully decorated and elaborate. Inside it said, “Thank you for teaching me how to have empathy.” And there was a picture of Beau and myself, teaching.
“I will never forget you. You keep being that leader I see in you, okay?” I smiled down at him.
“Yes, Ms. Amanda” he beamed.
I walked away from that school, knowing that at least two lives had forever been changed by Healing Species, yet again.
His, and mine.