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To Be Seen, To Be Heard

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

"Mr. Wilde, I just left a note on your desk."

"Alright, is it something I can help you with now, or should I wait to read
it later?"

"It doesn't matter when, but promise me you'll read it."

Sensing something awry in his tone, I immediately retrieved his hastily scribbled words. Those words would bring my end-of-day routine to a screeching halt and irreversibly alter the way in which I understood my vocation as a first-year teacher.

From what little I knew about his circumstances at this point in the initial month of our relationship, this student had already earned a position among my nightly prayers' intentions. Many outside spectators would presume that this young man didn't have a care in the world. Gregarious and exuberant as they come, mere mention of the name of our school's star basketball player will bring a smile to the face of any staff member at our school.

But this warm-hearted student had learned to default to this powerfully convincing guise in concealment of freshly opened emotional wounds. Even as his grades steadily slipped and his academic focus deteriorated towards non-existence, he took on more extracurriculars to delay the inevitable—going home.

His parents' marriage was over. With legal rights to custody uncertain and hotly contested, his sense of security was in free-fall.

Just the day before, I had asked him to hang back past the dismissal bell. He sat in what seemed like numbness as I struggled to delicately phrase my concerns for his well-being. He listened, politely nodded, and avoided eye contact as I offered to simply sit back and listen should he ever ask. Mere seconds after his departure, I had already deemed my attempt a blundering failure.

But with the next day's note, the floodgates opened, and his note's desperate words remain etched into my memory.

"Please help me. I just keep bottling all this up, but I can't do it anymore. I'm scared. Please help."

My mind raced as my heart dropped and I stammered to dismiss my homeroom. It was my turn to sit and listen. Our conversation would break my heart, but I no longer felt helpless. Confounding as it was to comprehend, [tweetable]he had somehow chosen me, his newest teacher, with whom to be most vulnerably honest[/tweetable]—to admit to the pain he had not allowed himself to feel. For the first time in a long time, he felt safe, and he felt heard.

Through our innumerable check-ins since and in cooperation with my coworkers and his mother, he has gradually regained his footing. And after long months of frustrations, his renewed academic efforts have finally yielded fruit.

Just yesterday, he strolled to the board, fighting back tears through an infectious smile.

"Mr. Wilde, can I say something to the class?"

Try as I might, I could never do justice to the words that followed. But even when he had given up, he explained, we had refused to give up on him.

Such are life's most precious lessons. Amidst the curriculum, beyond the content, what we learn in school is how to be human with one another. And [tweetable]if my students remember nothing else, let it be that they felt seen. That they were heard. That they are loved.[/tweetable]