My fifth-grade student - I'll call him "Mike" - had his head down on the desk and was unusually quiet. I asked him if he'd like me to call his grandmother to pick him up, but he said no. He didn't want to miss math class.
This was a turning point. Up to that time, Mike and I had been engaged in a clash of wills. One morning, early in the semester, I had sent him out of my class 16 times for disruptive behavior. When I had a conference with his grandmother, she apologized, explaining that Mike and his younger brother had been abandoned by both their parents, and had lived for a time on the streets of Los Angeles until taken into protective custody and placed in foster homes. She'd gone to court and fought hard to get custody of the boys, but it was a long process, and she was afraid irreversible damage had been done in the meantime.
After Mike's comment about wanting to stay at school, I took a closer look at what I had been thinking about him. This was a boy who conscientiously did his math homework. When he finished his math class work, he would announce, "I'm done. Who needs help?" And his fellow students would seek him out for his patient explanations.
I also noticed that, although he had come into my class somewhat behind the other students because of the interruptions in his life, he made rapid progress and delighted in the timed multiplication facts tests I gave daily.
So what was behind his outbursts of temper and his clowning around in class? I had dismissed this behavior as "little boy" bids for attention, and I had refused to give it to him; but I had also ended many days with a feeling of helpless defeat. However, when Mike made it clear how much he loved math class, I resolved to pray for us both.
I often begin my prayer sessions by remembering what God is. I particularly love the description of God Mary Baker Eddy gives in her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "The great I AM; the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-acting, all-wise, all-loving, and eternal; Principle; Mind; Soul; Spirit; Life; Truth; Love; all substance; intelligence" (page 587).
I've read this definition many times, but this time, thinking about Mike's situation, the phrase "all-seeing" became significant. I knew that individuals sometimes describe feeling loved as being "seen" - being recognized as someone special, worthy of receiving loving attention. I also knew that, no matter what Mike's behavior seemed like in class, he was always "seen" by God as His beloved creation.
The next morning I prayed, asking God to help me see Mike as He did. And I also decided that at the end of the day, no matter what happened, I would be grateful that Mike was loved and that his true Father-Mother, God, had never abandoned him.
This took some persistence, and several weeks passed when it was necessary to follow through with firm discipline for Mike. I battled discouragement by continuing to pray.
One morning, however, I realized that all along, Mike had asked insightful, intuitive questions about solving algebraic equations. His grades were climbing, and he grinned when I referred to him in class as "our master mathematician."
I realized that the things that Mike loved about math - dependability, predictability, availability - were qualities that were true about God, who is divine Principle. The lawful orderliness that Mike saw in math really came from God. I was comforted to know that God was as close to Mike as the multiplication tables he had so happily memorized, and that this divine Presence was governing Mike and me.
By the end of the year, Mike was calmer and happier. He had a new way of looking at himself. He wasn't the class clown. He wasn't a discipline problem. He saw himself as someone with talent and ability. So we were all disappointed when Mike's dad showed up and insisted that he move away. I continued to pray, however, knowing that Mike was never out of God's sight.
A month later, Mike moved back with his grandmother and was re-enrolled in my class. He was sad and confused at first, but when he walked on stage to receive the math achievement award, his smile was as bright as his grandmother's camera flash. Nothing had interfered with the recognition that was rightfully his.