Though I retired from education as the academic dean of a large urban middle school, I never enjoyed that job half as much as being a classroom teacher. As the dean, I worked mostly with teachers, monitoring what and how they taught, aligning curriculum to state standards, designing teacher inservices to improve instruction, etc. All very dry. The two things I enjoyed the most as dean was the pay and that I could go to the bathroom whenever I wanted, unlike being in the classroom. I never got over missing the kids.
I saw many teachers over the years who only wanted to teach smart, well-behaved, nearly perfect children. The things these teachers said in the teachers’ lounge about some of their students made me angry. Since my principal knew the soft spot I kept in my heart for the troubled kids, she gave me more than my share of these children. I worried about each and every one of them, but some of them touched me more deeply than others.
Before I became a general ed teacher, I was a special ed teacher. I taught the students who had serious emotional problems. That was in the days when these students were not mainstreamed but stayed in one classroom with one teacher all day long. They weren’t even required to take the state tests. Their classroom was nearly always in a portable, far from the rest of the “regular” students. Maybe the principal did not want the rest of the school to hear the screams. I resent that. I hardly ever screamed.
It was at this time that I met C. He had the sweetest, most angelic face, and though he was nearly fourteen at the time, he looked much younger. He was a young man who wanted to be good, who wanted to follow the rules, but gosh, darn it, someone else was always dragging him into trouble. Don’t you hate it when that happens? It was never his fault. He was a follower, and he always followed the wrong people. Unfortunately, because my troubled students were in a self-contained classroom, the only role models they had were other troubled students. C. didn’t have a chance. On the day he left middle school, I wrote him a letter. I don’t remember exactly what I said in it, but I think I told him that he had the power to turn his life around and make better choices. I’m sure I told him how much I believed in him.
I never heard from C. again until years later when I received a letter from him. He mentioned how much my letter had meant to him over the years, and he really wanted to change. Now he needed my help because he had again followed the wrong person and gotten himself in very serious trouble. He asked me if I would write to the court and ask for leniency. Because of the nature of C’s crime, I doubted there was anything I could say that would make any difference, but I tried anyway. It did no good, and C. suffered the consequences of his poor choices.
That was many years ago. In the beginning, I tried to find out where he was so I could send him encouragement, but I was unsuccessful in locating him. I never stopped worrying about him, though. And then…
This week that young man made this old woman cry. He looked for me until he found my blog and sent me a message by leaving a comment. It simply said, “Mrs. Okaty, please email me!” When I saw his name, my heart skipped a beat. I lost no time in responding, and he wrote back immediately to tell me about his life. He got married this week and has a little boy on the way, and he owns his own heating and air conditioning company. I checked his website out and his business is doing wonderfully. It even has an excellent rating with the Better Business Bureau!
This is what he wrote to me: “Your words have stuck with me through some rough times and I just hope you know what a wonderful impact you had on my life. I’ll never forget what you wrote to me and thank you so much for everything.” What an incredible and unexpected Christmas present! Thank you, C!