Wednesday, May 24, 2006

About A Boy

I got the phone call last October, on the first day of the second semester. "Ms. Wose, you have a new student, come down to the office to pick him up." Swell.

He was a pale, skinny boy with big sunken eyes and messy brown hair. His first words to me were, "I hate school. I hate reading. I hate writing. I hate math. I hate everything about school." And may I repeat, swell.

It quickly became apparent why the boy hated school, and reading, and writing, and math. He could barely read, his writing was illegible, he didn't know his numbers, and he never did his homework - half the time he didn't even remember his backpack. In fact, he hardly showed up for school at all, missing 27 days in less than two semesters. When he did show up he wore clothes two sizes too big and would often fall asleep in class. He was always hungry or tired, and at one point he managed to become infested with lice.

I sent home several letters to the mother to meet for conferences, and she would completely ignore them. When she finally did show up - unannounced - it was to inform me that I was to call the police if his father came within 50 yards of the school. It was then that she let me know that she was on parole for assault and "other things." I had never met a bona fide crack whore before, and she both fascinated and revolted me. I came to find out that the boy missed so much school because the mother would keep him home to clean the house and make her meals, or she would just let him sleep since he would be up all night while she and her friends partied and did drugs - when she wasn't in prison of course. She hadn't even bothered to send him to kindergarten. The boy's father, when he was in the picture, smacked the boy around. The father was in and out of prison on a rotating basis as well.

Just as I was filling out the paperwork for social services to take care of this situation, the grandmother called me to let me know that she now had custody of the boy. Her voice was weak and tired on the phone, and I was worried that the boy had gone from the frying pan into the fire. She asked me what sort of supplies the boy needed for school since she knew the mother had given him nothing. "The normal stuff," I said, "pencils, pencil sharpener, scissors, folders, but don't worry - anything you can't get for him I will gladly supply."

The next day the grandmother showed up at school. She had three absolutely enormous bags with her - holding enough school supplies for the entire class. My mouth dropped open as I looked in the bags at the array of bright colorful erasers, pencil boxes, pencils, folders - all the coolest supplies the kids could want. I told her it was too much, to take some home and keep it for the boy, but she said, "No Ms. Wose, you have done so much for the boy, please accept these so I can show my appreciation." I knew then that things were going be different.

He started reading. And writing - though it's still hard to decipher his words. He not only started liking math but actually began to excel at it. He never missed a day of school. He did his homework every night. His clothes fit him and were clean. Color came back to his face, he gained weight, and he started making friends. He became part of the class, not some ghost of a child who only showed up now and then.

I celebrated his every accomplishment with zeal. The class saw what I was doing and soon joined in, cheering every time he answered a question correctly, and encouraging him if he made a mistake. I pushed him to read, to not be afraid of making mistakes, to always do his best no matter what. He began raising his hand more and more each day. He started hugging me all the time, and asking me if he could help around the classroom. "I lov Ms Wose" I would find in his chicken scrawl on little bits of paper on my desk. He loved school now - everyday he told me how he loved school now.

Still, I was concerned. He was a slow reader at best and his spelling ability was nonexistent. The grandmother and I discussed his possible retention - she was worried that he was too old to repeat first grade. The boy was going on nine, it would be a shame to hold him back yet again - he had been held back enough. I told her we would see with his testing if he would move on. I didn't want him to struggle too much in second grade, but I knew that more than anything, this little boy needed a success in his life. I prayed the night before he took the first set of tests that would determine if he would be promoted.

He didn't pass the first round of tests. I called the grandmother to let her know. He didn't pass the follow-up tests. I called her again to let her know. I told her there were two more tests he could take - but we agreed that if he didn't pass the first one - that enough was enough - and we would retain him.

He took the third test.

He got a 98%.

He's going to second grade.

Today the grandmother showed up at school with a bouquet of flowers. She told me the boy picked them out. "Woses for Ms. Wose," he said. Then she hugged me tight and told me, "Ms. Wose, the boy talks about you constantly. He studies every night for you. He loves you with all his heart. If ever you doubted that you have made a difference, know that you have. You have
changed him forever. You have truly made a difference in his life. He will never, ever, forget you."

And I will never, ever, forget him either.

I made a difference!

64 comments:

Neil said...

You have the most important job in the world. And this just shows us how good you at it. Inspiration post, Brooke Wose.

msmachine said...

The hair is standing up on my arms. Hooray for you Ms. Wose and for his grandmother and for the child welfare service and for the courts. Most of all hooray for him, that he could still be reached, that he could still trust, that he could still love.

Sysm said...

Damn.

That stuff makes your heart burst.
The good kind.

I feel horrible for this boy - but he's so lucky to have you and his grandmother who won't give up on him.

Much love.

Thérèse said...

I have read a million posts by a million people, Brooke, but this touched me in a way that is rare. You're a very caring, very giving teacher. And a fantastic writer too, of course. All of this is priceless. You've made a difference, an early difference in the life of a boy who will grow up to have choices, because of you.

This world needs more Ms Woses.

Alistair! said...

Well done that teacher. Now imagine a class of 25 of these kids with no kindly grandmas to take them on. I gave up the class I was teaching of 3 to 7 year olds because they really need someone who specializes in this and that isn't me, it was harming them and leaving me emotionally drained.

I salute any teacher that can touch a child like you have brooke and I have the greatest respect and admiration for you,

G3T Films said...

You Wock Ms Wose!

Beautiful post

Miss Browneyedgirlie said...

That, THAT, is why I'm so excited to teach.

I'm so happy for you :)

mernitman said...

I'm not used to tearing up over blog posts. This is gold.

Amy said...

You've made my night. Thanks for sharing, I just wiped a tear from my eye thinking about the children I've taught... Its a great feeling, one I've missed the last couple years. I'm so glad I'm venturing back into that world. Thanks for touching lives...there aren't many "good" teachers in the world!

darth said...

wonderful :)

jackt said...

I had teachers in high school who made an enormous difference in my life, and I have always been very appreciative and sentimental about it.

But my experience pales in comparison to the difference you have made in this boy's life, in the first grade. Just imagine the story of his life unfolding in two paths- one with you in the picture and the other without. Wow.

Very inspiring. And touching.

MoDigli said...

What a wonderful story, Brooke! I never had a doubt that you've been making a difference in each of those kids' lives all year long. How wonderful for you to be able to SEE those results in the same year.

You've started a whole chain reaction that will set that swell boy on completely new future paths with lots of different choices. So many more choices and chances than he had before!

Well done, Ms. Wose! :)

And that mother? She needs to get smacked. HARD.

Bill said...

To make the world better than you found it ... now that's something to feel good about. The amazing thing is that you have no idea, and may never know, what that difference will mean. But one day, maybe when he's 40 or 50, that kid may be talking and trying to explain how he got to where he is and how he accomplished what he has, and he'll say, "Well, I had this teacher, a Miss Wose ..."

Egan said...

Damn, that's the story career advisors need to share during teaching conventions. My eyes are wet Brooke! Wet in a great way. What a great validation. I might have to pick your brain about how you came about your decision to teach. Thanks again for sharing.

Knitty Kitty said...

Goodness.
Maybe I should go teach primary, none of my students give two shits if I make the extra effort.

You rock!

Loz said...

Thanks Brooke, I needed a good cry today! I was scared how the story would end because you kept using past tense, I'm so glad it ended well. It's great that this kid finally found a teacher and a guardian who would treat him the way he deserved.

Dora and Tina said...

Great story Brooke. Little by little teachers make a difference. You really have changed his life forever.

jungle jane said...

Three cheers for Ms Wose and all of your kiddies. I dunno how you do it - truly i don't.

I especially like how he helps you in your classroom. you should get him washing your car in his lunchbreak Brooke. I am sure he would love every second of it.

ChickyBabe said...

Now I want to cry... well done Ms Wose!

yournamehere said...

Yeah, well, thanks to me, that display of roofing tools is clean and well-stocked.

Great story, Brooke; although I say teacher is the second most important job, behind bartender.

katarina said...

This is such a fantastic story. You could publish this.

It's teachers like you that kept me going when I was a student. I bow down to you and your kindness.

That's a beautiful picture.

Lo Lo Lova said...

"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains.
The superior teacher demonstrates.The great teacher inspires." -William Arthur Ward

You are an inspiration, Brookie! And I can only hope that my son has a teacher like you when he starts school. Loving what you do really does make a difference :)

TinaPoPo said...

Brooke, that was a fantastic post. Thank God for teachers like yourself. Every child should be so lucky to have at least one.

Blonde Vigilante said...

He's lucky to have you, Brookey! Think about this the next time you feel like quitting or you feel like giving up. Remember this boy. You are an inspiration to all of us.

the Caitlinator said...

What a great story! It's stories like those that keep us going. Thanks for sharing.

Flounder said...

Way to go Ms Wose!!

I was so worried as I read along that this story would end badly. Very badly.

Thanks to you, it didn't.

When will you be in Jersey? I really feel a need to buy you that bucket of Rocks ASAP.

Übermilf said...

You helped not only that boy and his family, but the state of Florida, the United States of America, and the world.

miss kendra said...

this made my chest all tight.

and i'm not even on my period.

Margaret said...

I am in tears. Wow.

Flounder said...

Jungle Jane sent me over to say that if you don't post soon, Ceiling Cat dies...

Uh, disregard that last comment.

babyjewels said...

Best post ever! I'm so happy for the boy and for you.

thephoenixnyc said...

I knew by the second sentence it was all about problems at home. My mon and sister both teach, I see it all the time. So sad. I was lucky.

Dave said...

Thanks for trivializing my ego-driven life. Thanks a lot.

Princess LadyBug said...

WoW! Can I be you when I grow up?

Seriously, you ROCK!!!

Jill said...

Yay Brooke!

Daphnewood said...

you make a difference everyday and don't ever forget that. I love every single teacher that ever taught my children. Well except for two but we won't go there. you are awesome Brooke. great post!

solethoughts said...

That was pretty damn cool. You rock.

Melanie was here said...

That story not only gave me goosebumps, it made me cry. You are an amazing teacher. How blessed that boy was to find his way to your classroom.

Keep up the great work, Ms. Wose!

kimananda said...

What a wonderful feeling you must have...and how wonderful that you were given the opportunity to help in this way!

sprizee said...

Making me cry at work. So not cool. Damn you!

JJ said...

Wow, Brooke, that is out of this world fantastic. From a grateful society, I say thank you.

jiggs said...

I read this a while ago. I didn't have anything to say afterwards. I still don't, so all I say is:

yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Brookelina said...

I once asked one of my teacher-mentors for the one piece of advice she would give to a new teacher. She simply said, "Love them." She was so right.

But to be honest, the boy's grandmother is the real hero of this story.

Thanks for all the lovely thoughts! Anyone want to be a teacher now? The pay sucks but look at the benefits!!

Loz said...

oh i would, but i have little to no patience and i'm biologically made up of 98% greed.

Egan said...

Don't tempt me Brooke. You and the grandma are to be commended equally.

Pixie Sprinkle said...

Can i be in your class pleeeease aunty brooke?

Flounder said...

So when are you going to be in Jersey?

Janet said...

I love stories like this. If only there were more of them.

sunshine said...

Congratulations. Regardless of the grandmother's involvement, you were really at the center of that whole episode. That is one heck of an accomplishment to look back on from your first year of teaching.
: )

Sizzle said...

that is such a beautiful story. i got all teary reading it!

you DO make a difference and that is the most wonderful thing you can do with your life.

Girl With An Alibi said...

I love you so much, Brooke. Thank you for being the kind of teacher and human being that kids need. Hooray for YOU!!!

Nick said...

This is a remarkable story. But you are a remarkable person, so it's easy to understand why.

Mone said...

thats all what counts in life, to make a difference!

charming, but single said...

Aw, Brooke. You made me cry. If that's not proof that a little bit of love can move mountains, then I don't know what is ...

The real me said...

I've been away for so long and look what I come back to... YOU MADE ME CRY, Brooke!!

But in a very good way.

Does he know you won't be back next year?

Bill said...

May I take a moment to go off topic because, being the Internet, I can ...?

Anyway ... saw a news item and commercial today. Energy jelly beans for the gym crowd and healthy potatoes. Imagine that. Jelly beans that make the drudgery of exercise as easy as breaking wind because they fill you with ... energy! And fries that are healthy for you.

Imagine that. Crap that's good for you. What won't they think of next? And with corporations being as trustworthy as they are, and marketing as above board as it is, who couldn't get excited about these innovations?

(I have no idea why I'm making this comment here.)

❉ pixie ❉ said...

Goosebumps...that totally gave me goosebumps. How awesome.

Dinah said...

My eyes are teary and my heart grew three sizes. You rock.

Sofi said...

That is so amazing. I am sobbing.

kidcola61 said...

you know brooke i wanted to read this one again...it did touch me that you gave the grandmother a chance before you called social services...that is very unusual in
today's bureacratic society where people don't care enough to bother but let the social service system take care of "problems" so not to disrupt the status quo - kudos to you and hope you enjoy FL!

Tits McGee said...

Yup. Crying now.

Thank you. Thank you for being such an amazing teacher and person, and thank you for sharing this story and again confirming for me why I want to teach.

FindingHeart said...

That's why we do it. Congress toys with pay checks and standards and the job gets harder each year. Yet, Ms Wose, you are there and have made the impact that nobody else could this year. As a teacher, I thank you for going each day and giving hope to kids. God bless ya sister. God bless ya.

Tammie Jean said...

How wonderful that this forgotten little boy had two guardian angels looking over him - his grandmother and you. Congratulations on making a difference :)

Monkey said...

You know of course that I'm sitting here crying. Sobbing actually.

Is this the first time I've read this? I can't believe that.

Thank you. You know why I thank you. Thank you.