photo by epsos.de under CC BY 2.0
by Julie Stutzman
For a semester in college, I was a substitute teacher in my hometown school system. I needed the extra cash and felt it would be an excellent opportunity to explore my childhood dream of becoming a teacher. Needless to say, I ended my time as a sub with a wide range of emotions and memories.
I knew beforehand that teachers had a tough job, but walking the same hallways they walk made it real for me. I can now understand when my teacher friends make the loaded statement, “I wanted to take them all home.”
One second-grade boy in particular will never leave me. I don’t remember his name, but I remember what he said. Words I never want to hear out of a child’s mouth again. This boy was a riot in class. Before the teacher left me alone with the class, she whispered to me that he “suffers from anger issues.”
I was known for being strict in the classroom, and that day was no different. Due to numerous interruptions and disregard to instructions, this boy lost his privilege to have a cupcake at the end of class. I saw the reality hit him: No cupcake? The boy threw himself on the ground and cried, “I’m so stupid! I always mess up!” His words hit me as if I just lost my cupcake privileges. “You are not stupid! Why would you think that?” I asked him. “That’s what my mom tells me every day,” he mumbled.
My heart hurt. As a lone tear touched my face, I looked into his eyes and said, “You’re a wonderful, special little boy.”
While I do not know for a fact if this boy had serious anger issues, I do know that it’s never OK to emotionally tear down a child. I’m a firm believer that being a positive presence in the life of a child can make the world of a difference. For every negative thing they hear, you can be the light in their darkness. This boy was acting out to get attention from me. Attention that he was not getting elsewhere and did not know how to get properly. I believe in the acronym CARE—Children Are Really Eager. Almost all of the “troubled” children I came across seemed to be acting out because they wanted attention. The reality was that these kids were really eager to be loved and eager to find and develop positive relationships that many of them did not have at home.
Kiwanis’ mission is to serve the children of the world. This may seem like a daunting task to take on, but all it takes is one person to step into the life of one child. When thinking of the world, don’t forget your own community. Volunteering in schools, after-school programs, community centers and religious groups are great ways to be that positive comment to a child that may think otherwise. Even though it may take more than one day to truly have an impact, it’s about expressing that we care in the first place.