September 4, 2002
My classroom was a sort of “dumping ground” at one point in my career.
The counselor, Mr. H., had a habit of coming to me with a timid smile and saying, “I have a kid for you who you’ll just love.
That was code for “I need to put a ‘bad’ kid in your class who’s gotten kicked out by another teacher.”
I sighed and answered, “Well, alright.” And thus, in walked Josh.
Some kids put up a little wall to prevent others from knowing their vulnerabilities. Josh had military-grade body armor.
He was a typical, tough-acting, fourteen-year-old boy: smack in the middle of adolescence, something to prove but nothing to prove it with just yet.
He didn’t like school and school didn’t like him.
The mention of Josh’s name yielded growls and steam in three grade levels of middle-school teachers.
I got him for four periods during his eighth-grade year.
He was in my history class, my study hall, my “student assistant” period, and he sat in my room during another teacher’s class, with whom he “didn’t get along.”
He worked some, but mostly, he drew lots and lots of pictures.
He brought with him frustration from other classes every day and would come in angry, ignore me, and get out paper.
I let him draw, but I frequently complained to him that he ought to be doing work for his other teachers.
He was difficult, so I just left him alone most of the time.
Pretty soon, Josh and I had come to an understanding. He held it together just enough to keep me sane.
When he was finished with his work for me he would ask for paper and pencils to draw.
I would reluctantly agree, as I knew it was not a battle I needed to pick during my busy day.
Other teachers had complained over and over that he drew pictures in their classes, so I was reluctant to encourage him.
He left a folder in my classroom with his drawings, but I never looked at it. I made it through the year, just barely, with my Josh-heavy experience.
At the end of the school year, I spoke briefly with Josh’s mother.
She explained that Josh’s father had been deployed for over fourteen months to Iraq and was frequently in combat.
I do not know how I didn’t know this — no one at the school had mentioned it.
I suppose there were so many deployments among our military families that it was overlooked.
Josh had to help her take care of his younger brother with special needs.
He hadn’t had a good year at school, but he’d had an even worse year at home.
The stress of the deployment had taken a toll on his family.
Because Josh liked to draw, the family psychologist suggested he draw whenever he felt frustrated or angry or sad or scared.
He drew all the time at home too. I felt so terrible.
Josh’s mother gave me a beautiful, handmade book. It had several of the most amazing drawings I had ever seen, and a couple of photos of Josh “to remember him by,” since they would be moving soon.
I couldn’t believe he was so talented and I had never taken a moment to notice.
He had drawn me working at my desk, the view out the classroom window, the furniture in my classroom, vegetables, fruits and many other things. They were amazing.
When I asked why she had given the book to me, she explained that she knew what a difficult child he was.
She told me that I was the only teacher who had not thrown his drawings away.
She said Josh had actually described me to the family psychologist as the “glue” that held his world together since his dad left. He said that I was the only teacher who was kind to him.
Because I had let him draw when he was sad or angry, he wanted me to have the book to say “thank you.”
She said he was too embarrassed to give me the book himself. She gave me a tearful hug and she left. I have not seen them since.
I do think about Josh a lot; I have one of his pieces — a radish — framed in my kitchen.
I am grateful that he thought of me as his school glue. But I regret not taking more advantage of a situation in which I could have more of an inspiration and encouragement to a young man who needed me.
I will not miss the opportunity again. I look for it in every encounter.
A teacher’s job is difficult. We forget sometimes, however, that day-to-day life can be far more difficult for many of our students.
I try to find something special in every student, but because of Josh, I try harder with the “complicated” kids.
I knew I had tried to be kind as difficult as it was sometimes, but I never knew I was glue — my eye opener.
But now I want to be more than glue; I want to be the cement stepping stone to encourage a child to the next level.
We all need a Josh to open our eyes to take a closer look at those around us to whom we can make a life a little brighter and be the glue that helps them keep things together.
Dorothy Goff Goulet
Chicken Soup for the Soul...