News Columns & Blogs

His sad head was on his desk. But when his teacher said this, he began to smile

She opened up her story with a quote from author and famed speaker, Barbara Coloroso, who said, “If kids come to us from strong, healthy functioning families, it makes our job easier. If they do not come to us from strong, healthy functioning families, it makes our job more important.”

Profoundly simple, yet remarkably true. It doesn’t matter at what age or in what capacity, but everyone who works with children can certainly personify the “our” in the quote, and the numerous “jobs” we work come together to form adults who are ushered into society with the hopes they will become productive members. The rite of passage for our youngsters can be a crap shoot, for sure, but the “our” never relents, and that’s what sustains kindness, generosity and compassion in the world. Because without the important work of relentless people, our children would never see, feel, or imagine Hope.

This story teller just happens to be a teacher, but the story itself could come from a pediatrician, camp counselor, Sunday school teacher, grandma, daddy or day-care provider. It’s a story of how important all of us can be in the life of children — if we see the work we do with them as important.

Patricia Blair, an English teacher at Richards Middle School, met Darren during her third year teaching. He brought several challenges with him into her classroom, but the most jeopardizing to the young man was abuse and explicit hatred from the women who should have loved him most. His mother was in jail for frequent bouts of abuse, such as forcing him to eat dog food when he misbehaved, and under the guardianship of his grandmother, he endured recurring loud proclamations of her disdain for him.

We expect a young child like Darren to enter the classroom or the doctor’s office or the camp retreat with the ability to leave baggage like his at the door. We expect these broken children to compartmentalize and drop the mental and physical damage at the curbside. But they can’t. So someone, somewhere, at some point in their lives has to undertake the important job to help kids like Darren.

It doesn’t have to always be a teacher. But often it is, and teachers like Mrs. Blair will choose a kid like Darren any day, every day because they see a Darren as the personification of their life’s mission.

Oh sure, people warned Mrs. Blair about Darren. They plopped his thick folder of incidents on her desk and told her to be careful. But people like Mrs. Blair welcome the mission impossibles. They embrace the hard ones that give meaning to the word “important” in Coloroso’s quote.

About a month into school, the class was given an assignment to complete. Most students were fast at work, but Darren just sat motionless. Mrs. Blair gently tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he needed help. No words. Just a shake of the head and continued stillness. Being the persistent worker of important work that she is, Mrs. Blair knelt beside the quiet boy, looked him dead in the eye, and asked again. He whispered back, “I can’t do this assignment. I’m slow.”

Maybe he was. Maybe he had some mental deficit written somewhere in his thick folder that put a name to his inability to do the assignment. Or maybe he wasn’t, and maybe he didn’t. Maybe he was just blinded by a lifetime full of hatred. Maybe he was handicapped by hurled insults and missing love, and he just needed a Mrs. Blair to offer him hope.

And she did – in the form of silliness that brought a smile to his face. She responded, “Are you slow getting out of bed in the mornings? A slow eater? Slow in P.E. class? Slow playing football in your neighborhood?” Her list went on and on, and his smile got bigger and bigger.

Of course not. Of course he wasn’t slow, and most importantly, of course he could, indeed, do the assignment. All he needed was a push in the right direction.

Needless to say, spending 180 days with a kind, compassionate teacher like Mrs. Blair revolutionized the young man’s life, and he ended up passing her class. That was the first time he had ever passed an English class on the first try.

See? It isn’t hard. Finishing the important job doesn’t require an education degree or a classroom. It simply requires looking into the eyes of a hurting child and seeing past the baggage and into the heart. Anyone can do that…and everyone probably should.

Sheryl Green is a secondary educator in Columbus. Email her at