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TITLE: Lessons from Adrian
By Lisha Hunnicutt
12/29/09
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This piece is one I wrote about a former student. My experiences with this student taught me some very valuable lessons that have stuck with me for many years. My target audience would be other Christians in education. I would like to eventually see this piece published in a teacher's magazine so any suggestions for improvement would be greatly appreciated.
It was less than an hour into the first day of school and I was already thinking, "This is going to be a long year with this kid." His name was Adrian. He sauntered into my 5th grade classroom wearing baggy jeans and a gang banger attitude. He slouched down in his chair; arms crossed in front of him, and flipped his leg up over the desk top. I had his name memorized within the first five minutes of the day. "Put your leg down, please," I said. "This is a classroom; not your living room."

He sighed and with a roll of his eyes put his leg down only to have it back up there ten minutes later. "Adrian, keep your legs off the desk, or I will take your desk away from you." By recess I was already praying, "Lord, what am I going to do with this kid?"

We continued on like this for several days; butting heads and glaring each other down. He was causing trouble, but I had a hunch that he still had a full arsenal of trouble yet to be unleashed. The fourth grade teachers informed me that this kid was a pain in the backside. He was nothing but trouble all year; constantly involved in every kind of rule breaking you can imagine and was often suspended.

About a week into the school year, Adrian's stepmother came to visit me. I hadn't met her yet and I didn't know she was coming. I pictured his parents as the rough gang-banging type with tattoos. Imagine my surprise when a put together, well dressed, educated, and all together a nice woman walked into my classroom and introduced herself as Adrian's step-mom.

She began to share with me his story. A year ago, through a court-order, Adrian came to live with his dad and her. They fought the system to get custody of this young boy. You see, Adrian had been living on the streets of a nearby town with his drug-addicted mother. She had Adrian doing drug runs for her. They were sleeping in different places every night, and his mom had been with numerous different men over the course of Adrian's short life.

When Adrian first came to live with his dad and family, he had lots of behavior issues. They worked with Adrian and he had come a long way. Yes, he got in fights at school, was sometimes disrespectful and defiant with staff, and faced numerous suspensions, but they were seeing progress. For example, they recently got him to stop hiding food. He kept raiding the refrigerator and hiding food under his bed or in his closet only to be discovered later as the smell of whatever was rotting got strong enough to be noticed. Adrian was worried about where his next meal was coming from and was so used to hoarding what little food he could find that he didn't know any better. A lot of retraining had to be done.

By the end of that meeting I was blinking back tears. "This poor kid," I thought, and my heart began to change. I saw past the angry front and the saunter full of attitude. This kid was hurting and he was hiding it behind an image that made him look like the tough guy. I quit letting his attitude get under my skin and started working on seeing Adrian as Christ would. I prayed for Adrian and asked the Lord to give me his eyes when I looked at this student. I asked that God would help Adrian to learn and grown and become something other than what his mother had set out for him to be.

I slowly saw changes in Adrian. The eye-rolling and sighing when he was asked to do something began to dissipate, and an occasional smile would shine across his face. Once in a while he would make some quick-witted comment that bordered on sarcasm. Rather than react, I would smile and say, "Good one dude. Now get back to work." I talked to Adrian about his behavior and together we set up a plan for improvement. He started to have whole recess periods where he didn't end up hitting or shoving someone, throwing a ball at someone's face, swearing, or breaking some other rule.

Small successes led to bigger successes and in March Adrian went an entire month without a behavior incident. I chose him for Student of the Month. I was never more proud of a student than I was that day. I considered it an honor to give him that certificate. There was more to it than just a piece of paper; it was a declaration of worth proclaiming, "You're not a bad kid. You have value and you can make good choices. You are noticed, and you matter."

We finished that year with Adrian continuing his good track record. I don't remember what his report card looked like, or what happened when he went on to 6th grade, and occasionally I find myself wondering whatever became of him. The one thing I do remember was a conversation I had with his step-mom on the last day of school. She stopped by to thank me and with tears in her eyes told me what Adrian had said to her that morning. "Mom," he said. "Mrs. Hunnicutt is the only teacher who's ever liked me."

I've learned that each student is like the picture of an iceberg hanging in our staff lounge. A large chunk of ice floating in the water, but all we see is the surface. In this case it was a tough-guy attitude, but underneath the water the iceberg runs deep. What baggage are our students lugging around under the water's edge: homelessness, abuse, hunger, abandonment, divorce, rejection, fear, humiliation, learning disabilities? We'll never know unless we take the time to get to know them and even then, we may only see glimpses of the complexities in their lives.

As test season looms and the pressure of "No Child Left Behind" seems to crush us from every side, let's resolve to remember that to the Adrians in our classrooms, there are more important things than test scores. And let's ask ourselves, "What can I do to make a difference in this child's life?"
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