Monday, May 14, 2012

Not too late to apologize

First, some humor:

After telling Student 1 to stop petting Student 2’s head, Student 2 said, “You have to pay to pet me—I’m like a petting zoo.”

 Student: “Nice reverse psychology.”
Me: “That wasn’t reverse psychology.”
Student: “It was for me.”

When passing out some papers to my honors class, a few of them started doing the wave. I told them this needed to end now, because otherwise they’d soon enough be tossing around a beach ball. About 15 seconds later, I turn around, and sure enough a student has pulled out a balloon, blown it up, and started hitting it across the room.

Okay, now for the sweet stuff:

Last year, my B period class was horrible. Especially since I was a new teacher, it was my worst nightmare. There were a handful of kids that were not exactly strangers to the administrators' offices, and I had the pleasure of having them all in one room. And it was a CP1 class, and those kids tend to be, overall, the least motivated of all the sophomores. I had a couple kids in there who did pretty much nothing all year. One in particular that I am writing about today was a smart ass, pain in the ass, "I don't care about anything" kind of kid. I tried to motivate him and reach out to him, and he nearly bit off my hand as he snapped at me not to give him a life speech. Needless to say, not one of my favorite people. He also was out of school for the end of the year and the beginning of this year because he got in trouble.

This year, my two office mates each have him in class (since he's taking junior English and retaking sophomore English), and they've told me that this kid is really turning his life around and redeeming himself. I will admit that I've been skeptical. After all, leopards don't usually change their spots. So imagine my surprise when today in the hallway, he asked if he could speak to me in my office. I asked him what's up (and he was surprised I remembered his name), and he said that he wanted to apologize for how disrespectful he was to me last year. I swear, you already could have knocked me over with a feather. He continued to say how it wasn't okay for him to act that way, and that this year he looks around in his classes and sees kids doing the same thing, and it bothers him.

I told the student that I really appreciated his words, and that it takes a big person to apologize like that. I put out my hand to shake his, and as he left he said, "Keep up the good work!" I was so incredibly touched by everything he said and the utter sincerity with which he said it. I very nearly started to cry. It was clear that my colleagues were right about him. He must have really had a wake-up call and done some soul-searching in order to get to this point. Just a year ago, he seemed like a kid on the fast track to nowhere. Today, I saw a man in front of me, someone who is now willing to learn from his mistakes and try to be a better person. I hope he keeps on this good path, because I am so very proud of him.

This isn't the first time that I've been surprised by someone like this. At the end of the last school year, a student wrote me a letter. Things with her had always been rocky--sometimes she was great in class, sometimes very very difficult. In her letter, she said she was sorry for giving me grief, and that she often takes out her anger at the wrong people. She went on to thank me and tell me that I'm a wonderful teacher. That letter is on my bulletin board in my office, and every now and then I glance at it and smile. Then, over the summer, a girl I knew in high school approached me. She had been a jerk to me back in the day, and over the past year she had been nannying for my little neighbor (which worried me). She came up to me and said she wanted to apologize for how mean she was in high school, and that it's really bothered her for a long time. My parents said she had been going through a 12-step program, part of which is making amends with people. I was shocked that she felt I was one of the people she felt the need to make amends with.

I've met a lot of shmucks in my life. And I'm sure that plenty of them will stay that way for life. But these people showed me that sometimes, people can recognize the error of their ways and truly change. Today was one of the best payments a teacher can get, the kind of day we store in our memories to save for a rainy day. Sometimes we have an effect on someone and we don't even realize it, and even think that we've failed in our goal to help that student. Then, out of the blue, they surprise you in the most wonderful way possible.