A few days after the fall term started, one of my fifth-grade students angrily threw a chair in class. When I told a friend about it, she remarked, "Kids who act like that usually end up dead or in jail before they're 21." It was true that this student (I'll call him Allen) had a history of violent and aggressive behavior. But I was uncomfortable with the assumption that he was doomed.
Was his situation really so hopeless? Allen's mother seemed to think so when she came for a conference. "You're going to have trouble with him," she said. "I can't do anything with him, and his daddy's gone."
Those pronouncements were disturbing. But part of my daily private routine is to pray to have everything I need to help my class. As I began to grade papers that night, I asked God to help me see a more positive possibility for Allen.
The words of Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science and the founder of this newspaper, occurred to me. She instructed the members of her Church that they "should daily watch and pray to be delivered from all evil, from prophesying, judging, condemning, counseling, influencing or being influenced erroneously" ("Manual of The Mother Church," page 40).
I asked myself: What was the evil in prophesying? The answer came. This harmful prediction about kids was an evil influence arrayed in statistical authority. It would try to convince me that an individual existed beyond the care and control of God.
I stopped what I was doing and prayed for God to help me see beyond this - to see only as God directed and not as expectations predicted.
Allen was suspended a second time for fighting. Grading papers one night, I felt discouraged when I thought about him, but as I was finishing, the thought came to look at his record. I brushed it off, telling myself I already knew his record as a troubled kid. But the thought persisted, and my eye fell on my grade book. When I turned to the page that listed all the homework assignments turned in, I noticed that Allen had not missed a single assignment since school started. I looked at his language arts grades only to discover a string of fairly high marks. Wasn't this evidence of discipline? He was doing his homework even with no one around to make him do it.
And I never would have predicted the conversation that took place a few days later, when he was allowed to return to class and I handed back an essay marked with another "A."
"I think you have a talent for writing," I said.
He smiled and said, "That's because I write all the time. I keep a journal at home, and I write when I'm by myself or I'm bored. What I'd really like to write is poetry, but I'm not very good at it."
"To write poetry you have to read poetry," I said. When I asked if he'd like to have a unit on poetry, I was surprised by his enthusiasm.
Another surprise came a few days after Allen's suspension. He had made the cross-country team, and the coach came to talk to me about Allen's behavior problems.
I expected him to insist that Allen be taken off the team. Instead, the coach said he wanted to work with Allen a little longer. "I'd like to take him to our next track meet, because Allen might see what's possible for him. Sometimes you can help turn a kid around if you help him find something to love ... you know, something to improve for."
Allen still gets angry sometimes, but he doesn't throw chairs. He has misbehaved in class, but when I've called him on it, he has immediately stopped and said, "Sorry, ma'am."
I wave to him when I see him after school, running track. The coach says Allen has never missed a practice, and his homework still comes in on time.
I don't know how Allen's story is going to end, but my prayers include gratitude for the support he's receiving from unexpected sources. By acknowledging God's tender provision for this boy, whether as inspiration to write poetry or as enthusiasm for track competition, I am comforted, knowing that God sees what is possible for Allen ... and it is good.