I'll never forget one of my most empowering moments as both a teacher and mother.
I was teaching 5th grade. I had one particular student who needed extra academic help and was somewhat socially different from the other students. As a teacher, you're told not to have favorites, but this young man, by far, was one of my favorites. He not only captured my heart that school year, but forever.
He gave 200 percent effort in all he did. If it took him 30 minutes longer than the last student to finish something, then, that's what it took. It didn't bother him.
If it took him two hours longer each night to get his homework accomplished, then that's what he did... with no complaint.
If he was chosen last on a team or not the most popular student to be chosen as a partner or to work in a group, that was fine for him to accept. He had no hurt feelings.
But when he was talked down upon, when he was verbally mistreated, when others would make fun of his honest efforts, that was a huge problem for him... and for me.
One thing I never have or never will tolerate in my classroom is bullying or downright disrespect to another human being. I don't give gentle warnings to that... or second reminders. We all have the right to be treated with respect every single day of our lives, in every situation.
I had seen my student struggling. He was noticeably upset and it only took a couple of seconds of eye balling of the situation to conclude he was being picked on.
I can't tell you what day of the week it was. I can't tell you what I had on that day. Frankly, I can't even tell you what lesson I was in the middle of teaching.
But I'll never forget how low my student's head hung. His poor shoulders were stooped forward as he was hunched over in his seat. The moment I realized what was going on, I found myself trembling. I almost had an outer body experience as I was so physically bothered. I was yelling despite my throat feeling as if it was closing up, and as my voice shook, my eyes filled with tears.
The entire class sat in complete silence, I think half in fear as they had never seen me like that and half in shock... as, well, yes, they had never seen me like that.
I don't recall the exact words I chose, but I do remember the exact point I was trying to get across.
And let me tell you, a short 60 seconds later, my point was made.
I'll never forget seeing my student raise his head ever so slowly, his eyes as big as golf balls, staring at me, looking at me as if I was the first person who ever did anything like that for him. And sadly enough, maybe I was.
I knew I made an impact on my student that day, as well as every other student in my classroom. I'll never forget his name. I'll never forget his eagerness to learn, to please, and his sincere heart for anyone who took the time to get to know the incredible young man who was in their presence.
But I didn't realize the full impact I had made until I received a letter from him several years later. It was a short letter. Only a few lines, but very well may have been one of the most impacting letters I've ever received in my 31 years of life.
"Thank you, Mrs Long, for sticking up for me. It was because of you that nobody made fun of me anymore. That was the day my life changed."
And the day I read that letter, that was the day that my life changed, too.
I often think of how different this young man's life could have played out if I wouldn't have spoken up or how differently my other students could have lived with the impression of what was appropriate or tolerated in treating other human beings.
I never realized the true power, the true impact, ultimately life changing words right at my lips. Those 60 seconds I took, forever changed a student's world and made him realize that he didn't deserve to be treated like he had been.
All too many of us question why we live in a world with so much violence and crime and negativity; so quick to tear one another down instead of extending a hand or building another up.
As the parent, as the educator, as the mentor, as the coach, as the adult, we're responsible. We can allow and overlook certain behaviors and enable them to continue. Or we can refuse, not tolerate what is out of line, and face issues head on instead of dancing around them.
Believe it or not, I've heard people say, "There's just too many kids off the wrong path, Once a kid is the way they are, they're not going to change."
Rest assured, if you feel that way, you are terribly wrong. Our children need guidance. Our children need discipline. Our children need tough love, redirection, and consequences.They need to have examples set before them. And most importantly, they need to see that actions speak louder than words.
But most of all, our children need love.
When they fall off the path, show them the way back. When they are rude and out of line, do not tolerate it. When they make a mistake, show them how they can use it as a stepping stone to better themselves and learn from it.
We have the voice to resolve. We have the voice to make change. We have the opportunity to mold and create how our children and our students will find themselves in society.
And yes, it all starts with one child... and our voice.
Are you using yours?