I hugged your son today.
With all you’ve been through, I doubt those words even make a dent. But I’ll give it a shot and hope that if I lay bare my heart, something good will come of it.
Two things make this hug kind of remarkable. My years teaching in public school taught me that hugs are a BIG FAT NO NO—never ever touch a child, we were told. Still, I gave absolutely no thought to what was appropriate. I just reacted, I guess. He should know how loved he is and I needed to express the grief I feel—and have often felt—over his situation and others. So sue me.
And then, if I believe what I’m told by those who know and love me best, I’m not a hugger in the first place. Admittedly, I withhold affection when I’m not sure it will be reciprocated. No need for worries in this case—your son is genuine. I’m sure he never turned away a hug. And that, perhaps, is what prompts this post.
I’m sure you feel we haven’t done enough. How can I explain why meanness can’t be prosecuted? How does the teacher address eyes rolling? A snicker? Students use disrespect for humor across the board—they tear down their friends. They tear down their enemies. In one situation, their words are purely for laughs and meant to be harmless. In another, it may be harassment, but it’s not always obvious. It’s hard to sort out what’s teasing and what’s torture in the middle of a lesson.
As I composed this post in my head, I tried to identify what I’m really feeling. I’m just so sad. My heart breaks for him, for you, for your family. But more than that, I feel so helpless. We’ve talked ourselves sick about bullying issues and what to do about it. I applied myself to this situation in particular. It feels completely beyond my control and like a complete personal failure all rolled into one.
When I started teaching years ago, I held to an idealistic view of my role. Struggling students just need encouragement. My words can make a difference. I can do this. I can turn lives around. I’ll just be the best cheerleader they’ve ever seen and love those kids to a better tomorrow.
Maybe that’s just the Kool-Aid of public education talking, and a side order of 20th century psychobabble. I’m more jaded now because I rarely saw changes in those days. The student whose school life was miserable on the first day of school tended to spend the last day in pretty much the same dark hole—or worse.
Now, I know there are exceptions. I’ve read the stories—even one recently about a teacher who adopted one of her students. Teachers do make a difference. I know it’s true.
Sure, I want to be a good teacher. I want history to come alive in my classroom and for previously disengaged students to be rapt by my lectures, hanging on every word, taking long draughts of truth in my presence. That’s the goal for every good teacher, and I sincerely hope I get there. But, in my heart, that’s not the difference I hope to make.
Your son, for so many reasons, represents many children who have passed under my nose in my career—who live with persecution day in and day out. This is the difference I want to make. Real change. Broken hearts healed and guilty hearts repentant. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. All of these truths I am charged with teaching—I want to see it make a difference. Right now. Today. For your son.
As sad as I’ve been this week, I realized that a change has been made, and it isn’t a small one. Your son made the difference. For me he redefines the victim—
That kid has guts. I hadn’t thought about it that way before I met him, but a few of my students over the years were downright courageous. Every day, they came to a school that they hated, pulled themselves together, put smiles on their faces and tried for the umpteenth time to make a connection with other students.
Never once has your son shrunk back in the corner in silence for fear of being criticized. Every single day, he participates. In fact, some days I feel like I’m teaching just to him. So I thought back to others, and yes, it is a pattern I see repeated over the years. I’ve known students who could easily have found some safety crouching in the shadows, but that’s not how they chose to handle their problems. They are talented and creative and consistently made positive contributions to the group—even when the group was unappreciative.
He is warm, genuine, kind, and helpful. This is the thing that is drawing some of those former students to my mind and resurrecting this sorrow for kids I couldn’t rescue. I loved having them in my class. They were the ones who chased me down to tell me a story or just say hello. They were the ones who gave the hugs that the administration warned us about. They were the ones who were worried about me when I had a bad day—and did what they could to turn my day around. Your son lights up the room. Not one of his smiles was wasted on me. Not once.
As I’m wrapping this up, I keep asking myself, “Now what?” For the Christian educator, this should be obvious. I love my students. I love the ones who are broken and the ones who did the breaking—and the gospel is for both. I see more preaching in my future, praying more and more for the Holy Spirit to bring conviction on my school. They will never know how destructive their sin is—and the sure judgment awaiting them—if they aren’t told.
“But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” Matthew 12:36 (NASB)
Then, for all the smiles and joy and life that students like your son bring to our schools, I share the same gospel. They must hear from me—relentlessly–that Christ loves them and they cannot be snatched from His hand. Maybe, with a little work, I can overcome my concerns over boundaries and punctuate the truth of His love with the occasional hug. So sue me.
May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:19 (NLT)