When I was in high school, I had an experience in the cafeteria that deeply impacted me. Lunch period was pretty much my favorite 30 minutes of the day. My friends and I would all sit together, laughing and joking as we ate our lunches. One day, as we enjoyed our usual routine, I noticed a boy sitting alone across the cafeteria. Three or four seats on both sides of the table separated him from the nearest group of gossiping teenagers. After a few moments, I got up and walked over to him, sitting down in the seat across from him. In an effort to strike up a casual conversation, I asked him his name. “Jewemy,” he said. As we continued our conversation, I realized that Jeremy had a very severe speech problem, and only after some time was I able to discern his language.
Jeremy was a freshman and was still adjusting to the high school atmosphere. He hoped that high school would be a different, more positive experience than middle school had been. Upon inquiry, I learned that Jeremy had attended two middle schools. At the first one, he had been bullied so bitterly because of his speech impediment that his mother was compelled to transfer him to a second school where he endured similar treatment. I asked if this was a challenge he’d dealt with all of his life, to which he responded that it wasn’t. He explained that he’d gotten very sick a few years earlier. His condition was so severe that it damaged part of his brain and rendered him able to speak only with great difficulty. He’d been enrolled in various programs to help improve his ability to speak clearly, but his road to recovery had been riddled with relentless tormentors.
As the bell rang, signaling the end of our lunch period, I invited Jeremy to sit with my friends and me in the future. He accepted the invitation, and I was very happy when he found our table the next day. I enjoyed his company immensely throughout the remainder of the year, and he and I became close friends.
Jeremy could very well have continued to suffer the way he had in the past. High school could have proven to be a nightmarish sequel to a terrible middle school experience, but such was not the case. All it took to change that was a simple gesture of kindness and friendship. All it took was reaching out to the one. There are so many Jeremys in the world: people who feel alone, abandoned, and unappreciated. There will be many of these children in our classrooms, so it’s essential that we learn to recognize and reach out to them.
This prompts some questions in my mind: what do these children look like? How can we tell who needs our love and attention? I’m sure you’ve noticed the quiet little girl who always plays by herself at recess, the loud little boy who seems to be always seeking attention, and the child who never smiles or laughs, kind of like Eeyore with a gloomy little rain cloud that follows him around everywhere, constantly raining unhappiness upon him. And of course, there are also the children who simply get left out and who feel that they have nothing valuable to offer. We’ve all observed these children, and they are not few in number. It is so important that we, as teachers, learn how to recognize these symptoms and provide the necessary remedies that will restore these children to wholeness.
What, then, can we do to reach out to the “ones” in our classrooms? One of the best ways I’ve found is to spend one-on-one time with them. Some of these children will be difficult to identify immediately, so spending time with each student will help us discern what individual needs may exist in our classrooms. The manual Teaching, No Greater Call suggests that we can “reach out to individuals when [we] greet each person warmly at the beginning of class. Small acts like this can make an important difference” (p. 35). We can also establish a classroom environment that makes participation “inviting and safe.” TNGC teaches that “individuals are touched when their contributions are acknowledged.” Each student has unique abilities and talents, so utilizing these in our instruction will validate each child and encourage them to be more involved in classroom activities.
Another practice I’ve found to be effective is finding ways to influence students outside of the classroom. “The things you do for people outside the teaching setting can make a profound difference in their attitude toward [learning]” (TNGC, p. 36). There are so many ways to do this. Send letters to their parents praising your students’ hard work and good behavior. Remember important events in their lives like birthdays and activities they participate in. Many of our students will be involved in sports, and attending an occasional game would do wonders for our relationship with them and their parents.
There are so many things we can do as teachers to reach out to each individual in our classrooms, particularly those who need more positive influences in their lives. There is no end to the good we can do and the lives we can bless by simply being observant, recognizing needs, and being proactive in providing for those needs. I learned from my experiences with Jeremy that a little bit of effort goes a long way. I don’t know how his high school experience would have been had I not reached out to him. However, I do know that a simple act of reaching out provided a much-needed positive influence that enriched both his life and mine.
How have you reached out to others? How have others reached out to you in ways that were personally meaningful? I’d love to read about your thoughts and experiences on this important subject, so please take some time to comment below. Thanks for reading!