One of my office regulars got into a very big altercation with a teacher recently that landed him in some serious trouble. He got back from his suspension while I was out for a few days, and there was no one around to sit them down and have them talk it through. Unsurprisingly, he was probably deeply anxious about returning to her class, and kept lying to people that she’d said he couldn’t go back to her room for the rest of the year. When he was sent to class anyway, he threw such a huge fit that he ended up suspended again. Today was the first day with all three of us back.
When the teacher came to my office to meet with us, he panicked and tried to walk out. I put my arm out in front of him and he stopped where he was. He wouldn’t acknowledge anyone, wouldn’t turn his face, and wouldn’t take a seat, but he at least wasn’t moving either. Finally, the teacher just came over next to us and started talking.
Many teachers I work with have the hardest time forgiving difficult students for things, because at some point it just feels like enough is enough. It’s hard to forgive someone when they do something bad to you. It’s even harder when this person has been constantly difficult to you for months on end, without showing signs of remorse. Teachers are human, and eventually many of them start to take it personally, start to feel vengeful, and just don’t have it in them to be deeply kind anymore. No one ever thinks they’re that kind of teacher, but usually they don’t know they’re doing it. They just think they’re being tough on misbehavior, and it gets hard to distinguish that from losing the ability to forgive someone who needs it most.
Amazingly, this teacher, who deserves to still be angry, found it in herself to rise above that. She reached down deep and found some saintly forgiveness in her, and she just said the nicest things to this kid. I couldn’t have scripted it better. She said that she wasn’t angry. That she sees all these good qualities in him. That she’s missed having him in her class. That this event doesn’t define who he is or who he can be. That she’s ready to move on and let it go. That she cares about him and still wants him around. That he is important and he gets a fresh start.
When she first started talking, the boy had put his face against my outstretched arm as if to express frustration that I still had it in front of him. Yet as she spoke, he slowly pressed his eyes into my bicep until he was really resting there, listening to her. When I realized he wasn’t trying to fight me, I awkwardly bent my arm up so that I could put my hand on the top of his head. I only knew he was crying because my arm was getting wetter and wetter as we stood there.
When she finished talking and left the office, neither of us moved. He kept crying silently into my arm and I kept my hand on his hair. Neither of us said a word until he shifted his weight on his feet, and then I gave him a pat on the head, turned, and walked out of the office so he could sit down without anyone having seen him cry.