Hope for the Angry Child

heart inside you HFM

“If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.”
-Emily Dickinson

I haven’t spoken of this experience for over fifteen years; I have definitely never written about it. Yet, when the memories of this time came rushing back, I had to pull off the highway and find a gas station where I could scribble my notes. It’s taken four weeks to transform my notes into readable form, but I have no doubt the timing of this message is perfect for someone reading today. This is my story … and Vince’s* story …

*Name has been changed

I had just one year of teaching under my belt and was taking classes towards my master’s degree in special education. Though barely qualified to teach students with challenging behavior disorders, I quickly assessed that academic training wasn’t going to make me a successful teacher–it had more to do with the connections I made with my students.

The way this particular school set up its special education program for behaviorally challenged students allowed me to form lasting bonds with my students. Rather than having a self-contained classroom, I had one-on-one time with each of my sixteen students throughout the school day. By providing direct support to the children and their teachers, the school district believed these exceptional students could be successfully mainstreamed into a tradition classroom. Furthermore, it was not unusual for me to work with a particular student for multiple years.

Such was the case with Vince*. Vince had compliance and anger issues but we had made significant strides in our first year together. Vince was an adorable child who looked forward to our one-on-one lessons and my frequent check-ins to his regular classroom.

On this particular evening, a typical event for a new school year was taking place. It was “Meet the Teacher” night. All the teachers were lined up, preparing to walk across the stage as we were introduced. As we waited for the principal to take the podium, I noticed Vince’s mother making her way through the crowded gymnasium. She was coming straight toward me in breathless haste.

When she spoke, I thought I did not hear her correctly – there was no way I could have heard her right. As the blood drained from my face, I leaned closer praying I had misheard. Vince’s mother repeated the words that seemed incomprehensible, unbearable, and repulsive to my ears.

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Changing the Way the Story Ends

Changing the Way the Story Ends

*name has been changed to protect privacy

For ten years I thought of him every day, but yet I never thought to look him up.  The only former students of mine that I happened to hear from were the ones that had looked me up.

Then all of a sudden, it was important to how Kyle* “turned out.” Reader’s Digest was going to publish our story and the editors wanted to know what Kyle was doing now. It had been ten years since I last saw Kyle, and I had moved several times since then. I told the editors I was sorry, but I did not know where or what Kyle was doing now.

Then just before the article went to print, I was asked Kyle’s actual name. Over the last decade, I thought of him only by his first name – which happens to be very unique. But for verification purposes, the editors at Reader’s Digest needed to know his real name.

I typed his first name in the reply email, and then embarrassingly, I drew a blank. After several minutes of racking my brain, I realized his last name would more likely come to me if I stopped thinking about it. I set the email inquiry aside and went back to a piece I was writing.

Minutes later, like a neon sign suddenly switched ON, Kyle’s last name vividly displayed in my mind.

But before I responded to the editor, I knew there was something I must do.

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