As Joey strode into the room I found myself surprised to see him, especially so late in the evening. How had he gotten into the school? Why was he here? Joey walked straight up to me and threw out his arms, embracing me in a bear-type hug. It was then that he began to talk. I couldn’t believe just how big this boy had become since he’d been a chubby little fourth grader in my classroom some six years before. He’d become a fine young man, now in his second year of high school.
Joey talked, expressing several times just how much he loved being in my class as a 4th grader. He reminisced about the voices I’d used for read-aloud, the assignments he’d had fun with, and just how much the room had stayed the same…though it was just a little bit smaller than he remembered. His face grew somber as he turned and looked me in the eyes. He began to thank me for the countless hours I’d spent on him; hours of working on assignments as well as tutoring him with reading.
He took a deep breath and then said, “I wanted to tell you something else…I wanted to let you know that I’m a good kid. I’m not perfect and I’ve done some stupid things in my life, but when I started to drive to the school tonight to visit you, I thought about how proud I was of the fact that I am a good kid, and I wanted you to know that. I’m not trying to toot my own horn or anything like that, and I hope you don’t think I’m being prideful, but I’m not doing drugs, I’ve got a lot of good friends, and I’m nice to people. I’m proud of myself and I wanted to let you know that, too, because, it was you who really made me the person I am today. I can remember all of the long hours you worked with me and helped me to love school. The things you taught me about being a good person. Well, I just wanted to thank you for that.”
It wasn’t long before Joey’s cell phone rang…it was his mom. He needed to be home for dinner soon. I walked him out of the school; before he got into his car he gave me another hug, once-again expressing his gratitude. As I watched the taillights of Joey’s rover vanish into the darkness, I climbed into my own car and made the trip home over the icy streets of town, my head a flood of reflection. I had thought about Joey—on numerous occasions. He’s the type of student that teachers often think about…wondering: Was all the time I spent on him wasted?
I felt a wave of gratitude wash over me as I drove home; thankfulness for the time I’d chosen to spend on this particular child who had struggled with education for so many years. It was this same boy, now sixteen, who helped me to realize that the time we invest in others, though it may tax us to our very limits, can make the biggest difference. This time we spend is NEVER wasted.
In the words of Loren Eisley:
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”
The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Son,” the man said, “Don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach, and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference for that one.”