Never Give Up On a Child


Once at a community event with elementary through college level teachers we were seeking to network with the people who served the mental health community.  I was a speaker.  (I was also in a unique position to see and know both sides being an educator for the school system as well as a counselor for the local mental health authority.)  I had just finished my pitch on the strength in combining our efforts. I opened the floor for questions and comments.  A few questions in, I had an elementary educator say, “Don’t you agree that sometimes we have to give up on one child when there is no hope of reaching them or the effort affects the education of the rest of the class.  Shouldn’t we focus our efforts on the students who are willing to and able to learn.”

Like a punch to the stomach, it was a complete shock to hear this from a teacher responsible for the education and development of young learners.  I tried not to show it.  I said we had to do what we could for all children, advocate for more support, and utilize what resources we have.  I sympathized with her regarding the frustration and challenges some students can pose.  Then I sat down.  One of my colleagues took over with her talk on the areas she was representing.  I sat there in disbelief.  It sickened me.  Her statement/question made me feel like she should not have been in any classroom if that was going to be her approach.  I was so upset that I had to leave and defer to my fellow speakers to conclude the discussion.  Ever since then, I have wished I could have kept it together and answered her more directly.  This is what I would have said.

It is never acceptable to give up on a single child, ever in any classroom or even in life.  It may be hard, but we must do our best to reach each child so they each know they are important enough and worth any effort to prepare them for life with its hills and valleys.  An education is crucial to navigating these, and there is never a good enough excuse to leave a child behind.  Special needs included.  I didn’t know it, but I had bipolar disorder and Asperger's Syndrome from an early age.  Never once did I feel I was “too much”.  Never once did I feel the struggles and challenges my teachers faced was enough for ME to give up.  I watched as they did their best to teach (and often occupy) my mind to make the experience of learning both tolerable and beneficial in the classroom, with my peers.  I wasn’t singled out for being special.  I was just a kid in school playing, socializing, and learning with all my friends.  Because no one gave up on me, I didn’t give up either.  I, to the contrary, felt worth the effort.

When I was 25 years old in Arkansas I signed up to be a substitute teacher for the first time ever.  Kindergarten was my favorite.  I enjoyed the challenge and honor of teaching the little ones with so much to learn.  And they still knew how to have fun which was my main reason for teaching.  I wanted to make learning fun.  One day as I entered the school, the teacher welcoming kids at the curb greeted me and asked whose class I was going to be in.  I told her.  She gasped and warned me that I would have difficulty with one of the students in my class.  She said he was always a problem, and there wasn’t much I could do to avoid it.  She seemed to pity me for having to teach this class because of one student.

I didn’t for a second accept that I would be defeated in the classroom nor would my students, not one of them, have a bad day while I was sitting at the big desk. When the day started, I casually greeted the little “trouble maker.”  I told him that since I was new to the classroom, I would need a special helper so I would do everything right.  I asked if he would sit next to me and help me keep from making mistakes because he knew better than me what was supposed to be going on in the classroom.  I was the new guy.  He proudly gathered his supplies and set up shop at the table next to my desk.  He helped me with other students' names.  He helped me to know when recess, lunch, bathroom and water breaks were.  

When we were doing class work, I had the students who finished quickly and with mastery go around the room and help anyone needing assistance in completing the assignment, including my helper.  No one felt inferior or as though they were a burden.  We were a class working together where together we refused to leave anyone behind.  I had no problems with any student that day.  I enjoyed the experience, and was informed by my little ones that they enjoyed having me too.  I presented the lessons and conducted the classroom in an inclusive way where each student felt valued.

It is never ok to give up on a kid.  Not one.  Never.  As teachers we have to learn how to meet the challenges in the classroom.  If we can’t, we should ask for help.  Giving up is not an option.  It makes all the difference in every child’s life.  It teaches them to never give up on themselves or others.  That is what I would have said to the woman in the community meeting.  Luckily, my boss/mentor/friend, Roddy, had my back.  He set the room back on course.  I left that meeting thankful for my teachers.  They never gave up, and I didn’t either.

This guy got a kick out of it

This guy got a kick out of it