I walked into the classroom, and right into the middle of a tense situation. I had been tutoring in a couple of different classes in one of the elementary schools, and I was about to start my final hour of work.
The teacher (I found out later) had just been dealing with a third grade boy, who is a regular disturbance in the class. I’ve known the boy (“Marcus”) for over a year now. Marcus went to the Boys & Girls Club sporadically last spring, none in the summer, and sporadically again in the fall (though, as my wife pointed out, he came more regularly once I started tutoring in his class).
Marcus was sitting in his chair, pulled far away from his classmates. The teacher continued on with the math lesson, while the boy’s head was held low, as he stared down at his desktop. Another five minutes into the instruction, the boy still hadn’t paid one ounce of attention or made any effort to learn.
The teacher assigned a problem for them all to work on, but this boy did not move. I walked over to him, bent down, and calmly but firmly told him he needed to get out his notebook, and do the work. He slowly got out paper and pencil, and solved the problem.
Marcus was one of the first to finish, and one of the few to get it correct.
Seeing that he got it right, I squatted down, gently cupped his head in my hands, and directed him to look in my eyes. “Marcus,” I said, “You are smart. You can do this work, and you can learn so much. I know sometimes you clown around and get in trouble. Nobody is perfect. But do you know what you do when you get in trouble?” He shook his head silently.
“When you get in trouble and start to feeling sad,” I continued. “You quit. You pout and shut the world out. And when you quit, you can’t get better. You can’t learn. You give up on yourself. We have to help you to stop giving up.”
Marcus sat up a little straighter, as I kept talking to him. “Things are always going to be hard in your life, but you can make good things happen. But if you want things to get better for you, you can never quit. Got that? Don’t quit. What are you going to do?” “Don’t quit,” he repeated.
I walked away to help some other kids. Marcus kept doing his work for the rest of class. He still has rough days; and it seems like that the more I brag on him to others, the more I see him in the principal’s office.
But his success or failure will not be determined by how many good or bad days he has. His success or failure will be determined by how often he perseveres or quits. He is talented enough to succeed in life, if he refuses to quit. But he’s right on the fence.
Don’t quit, Marcus. And don’t quit, the hundreds of other boys just like you.
image courtesy of NightLord via sxc.hu