Rodney was eight when he changed my life. Eleven years ago I was hired to teach third grade at my current school in a smallish town outside of Atlanta. During back to school night I noticed a mother hovering in the corner by herself looking sorry eyed and mournful. I made my way across the room said, “You look distressed. How can I help you?” She took a breath and looked hard at me, taking my measure the way mothers do when they’re worried about their child. “Miss,” she said, “I just want someone to love my boy.”
Now, for the record, no parent should ever have to say that to a teacher. Loving the children who are entrusted to our care is the least that we should do for them and for ourselves for that matter. I promised her that I cared about her child, that he was important to me and I guaranteed her that he would be happy and successful. Then I promised myself that I didn’t care if he was Jeffery Dalhmer with blood dripping from his hands. I was, by God, going to love that boy. And I did. Mind you, it wasn’t without some challenges. Rodney gave me a run for my money and so did the teachers. Everyone in the school seemed hell bent and determined to let me know just how awful they thought he was. I pitched several fits because I didn’t know how to put sugar on it. When one of the teachers who had taken a dislike to Rodney and me went to the counselor to try and get something done about him Glenda told her bluntly, “You’re going to have to go through Debra to get to Rodney and I wouldn’t cross her on my best day.” People left the two of us alone after that and somewhere along the line Rodney learned that I loved him and would do whatever it took for him to be successful. He stopped fighting me and started trusting me. He blossomed and so did I.
Last week another mother came into my room on another back to school night with her daughter Latisha who was new to our school. The mother looked fretful around the edges of her heart so, I asked her if there was anything she was concerned about. “Yes, ma’am, my daughter has some problems with her behavior.” I didn’t say anything for a moment and then I told Latisha that I had a present for her. It was the same thing I gave Rodney and the same thing someone gave me, a clean slate.
All too often we damn ourselves and everyone else to hell and back and hang on to our damnation like it’s a life line to shore instead a fraying line to a sinking ship. We forget how many times someone has given us a clean slate. Heaven knows that I’ve had my share of them rather I deserved them or not. Trust me when I tell you that I have provoked more then one or two people past the point of sanity (I’m not counting the drummers who probably deserved it). Giving my students a clean slate is the least I can do. Rodney got as many as he needed sometimes several in one day. Like I said, learning to love Rodney was not without some challenges. It was worth it for my own sake as much as his.
It’s easy to think of love like an old Coke commercial, you know, “I’d like to teach the world to sing….” The truth is love is not for the faint of heart. Love takes a whole lot of courage sometimes. There were days with Rodney that I wanted to beat my head up against a wall and poke my eye out with a stick. When I reached that point I would remember Rodney’s mother and the promise I made to her. I promised her that I was going to love her child and I was going to love her child one way or another. Most of the time all it took for me to return to love was to remember my promise to her. The minute I returned to love, which by the way is our natural state of being, I became forbearing, instantly patient and tolerant, then I was able to give Rodney what we both needed, a clean slate.