Never Tell Children They Will Amount To Nothing

I had lunch alone today at a local Japanese restaurant with a Kate Chopin book and my Blackberry for company.  A lovely young man sitting diagonally across from me is also lunching alone and strikes up a conversation.  He’s fidgety and friendly like you’d never believe – he shoots all sorts of questions at me trying to find some common ground from which we can converse.  Within a matter of seconds I learn where in Ontario he’s from, his love of cooking, his girlfriend is six months pregnant with their first daughter and that he has a learning disability.

He instantly relates when I tell him I am on summer holidays because I am a secondary school English teacher.  His first response is to tell me that at the end of the school year when he was in grade 7, his French teacher told him “The next step for you from here is jail”.  He laughed.  I bet he wasn’t laughing when he was 12.

He now owns his own heating and air conditioning company, makes six figures yearly and runs his company smoothly – managing employees, new customers, buildings, and he loves it.

He told me that school was never for him.  It didn’t matter what a teacher did, his attention was always focused elsewhere and it was work that finally brought him a sense of accomplishment.  He explained to me how his mind worked every time he had reading or an assignment to do – I was fascinated.  He would easily learn about everything around him except for the assigned task.  Obviously, as a disengaged 12 year-old I can’t imagine he was easy to manage in a classroom – but that still did not give that teacher the right to forecast such a dire future for him.  Jail? Really?

Ironically enough, that teacher had problems with her air conditioner recently and was flabbergasted when he showed up at her door to fix it.  She had the audacity to repeat her comment and then say “I can’t believe I’m giving you money to fix my air conditioner”.  Guess some people never learn.

My point is this: as educators we come across some really interesting characters.  Some students will truly stay with us forever – because they remind us of ourselves, because they have inspired us, because they are ten million times more intelligent than we are and because they have challenged us to the point of wishing we could have a stiff drink at work to get through our day with them.  Regardless, it is never, ever acceptable to tell a child that they will amount to nothing, worse than nothing, that they will be delinquents and end up in prison.

It will be that student that will help you out of a jam down the road – and I for one would like them to do it out of respect and gratitude for what I tried to do to help them, not spite for humilating them.

We must watch the weight of our words – they live on far longer than we realize.  Thankfully, I work with many teachers who honour their students, think about they say and the impact it will leave on a child.

Did a teacher ever say something to you that you would love to respond to now? Or, conversely did a teacher say something that helped to shape the path of your life in a positive way?