We DO make a Difference – PART 1
It wasn’t long after I arrived at Macdonald Consolidated that I met Bernice. She was a middle school student with attitude. During my time as principal she won the Most Contemptuous Middle School Student award, hands-down. It wasn’t until later that I figured out where the anger was coming from, but, during my two years working with her, she presented a most interesting challenge. I learned a lot through my dealings with her and her parents.
Oh, and she had a core group of friends who took their cues from her. While they were not nearly as disrespectful toward their teachers as Bernice was, it was interesting to study the influence that Bernie had over them.
It became obvious to me that Bernice had strong leadership potential. She had good communication skills and a charisma that few have at that age. The only problem was, she was not exercising her skills in a positive manner.
I am not proud of it but she is the student for whom I gave the greatest number of suspensions. If one had existed at the time, she would have been better served in an alternative school; ie, one that is set up to specifically deal with students with behavioural and/or social problems.
I would plead with Bernice to make good use of her abilities and strengths. I told her that she had leadership potential and that our world would be a better place if she used it in a positive way. Each time she returned from a suspension I would encourage her to take a few more steps towards having a positive outlook and assured her that time on this planet would be much more enjoyable if she worked at elevating those around her rather than trying to pull them down.
As teachers, we hope our time with students makes a difference. We want to know that we have helped them to become more knowledgeable and to be better learners and citizens. When Bernice left us for high school, I felt none of that. I didn’t think I had gotten through to her at all. I felt defeated.
After several suspensions from our area high school she was eventually expelled; ie, not permitted to return. She then enrolled in another high school in our district and, after several transgressions, was told she couldn’t return. Each time news about Bernice filtered back to me, I could feel a knot in my stomach. I feared for her future but realized that I had to let it go.
One day after school her father came to see me. He hadn’t made an appointment. He was simply waiting for me at the office and asked if we could chat. I agreed but was at a loss as to what this could be about. Up until this time, most of our dealings had been centred around Bernice’ behaviour but she was no longer a student in our school. Most of our interactions had also been somewhat confrontational.
We sat in my office. He told me about his oldest child, a boy I hadn’t taught and didn’t know. He explained about the problems that were caused when he was at home and how he was put out of the house. He was no longer in touch with his son. His concern was that Bernice was heading down the same path and he wanted to avoid that. He asked, “Father to father, can you give me some advice?”
Now this really blew me away. I couldn’t believe, given our history, that this man was seeking advice from me. But there he was, confessing his fears.
By this time I think I had a good understanding as to why Bernice was the way she was. I understood her anger. She grew up in a negative home. A nurturing, supportive and encouraging environment was foreign to her. Belittlement was the norm.
“May I ask you a personal question?”, I said.
“When did you last tell her you loved her?”
He struggled to find an answer.
To be continued . . . . . . . . . . .
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