Slothful. Lazy. Apathetic. Pick your word to describe him. They all fit. To us, Andy was just another kid who was looking to skate by and drift through life without putting forth any effort whatsoever. He never volunteered himself. He hadn’t turned in homework since the Regan administration. Yet he always seemed to make A’s and B’s on his tests. We KNEW he was smart; he just wasn’t putting forth the effort! This made Andy the target of many accusations from his core teachers, especially yours truly. We even went to the extent of calling him in to have a chat with him in our team plan, yet his quiet demeanor never let us see past what we already saw. Andy was a mystery to us.
When second semester parent/teacher conferences rolled around, we called Andy’s mom for a meeting. Having her slip down the long tables talking to each of us one on one would have been a nightmare for her, so we decided to collaborate for one meeting on a Friday afternoon in our team plan hour. She arrived right on time, thanking us for taking time to meet with her. Once introductions were made, Andy’s mother jumped right in. She painfully explained the harsh reality of what Andy had to deal with at home. A father that was not in the picture. A sister who was abused by her boyfriend. Countless moves over the past few years that made him wonder why he should even try to make friends. Depression.
As each small part of the puzzle shifted into place, my heart sank that much deeper, aching for this kid. To top it all off, the mother said they were moving—again. On the following Monday. She was pulling Andy from school that day to have him help the family get packed up to move to Texas. She didn’t have to show up! But out of the goodness of her heart, she did, paying her respects to the teachers who cared enough to challenge her son to be better. You could have passed any of us a tissue at that moment when she exited the room. Remorse filled me to the brim, and there was nothing I could do better the situation. Until our science teacher suggested we all write a note to him.
We scrambled over to the cabinet to get out the thank you cards, each of us grabbing one to write on. We pulled that box out on a weekly basis to write to students who deserved appreciation and mailed them letters. But these notes were not to be mailed. They were to be written IMMEDIATELY. Before Andy’s mom found him and pulled him from school. Forever. You had never seen four teachers write so furiously. I truly don’t even remember my words. All I remember is the four of us running down the hall and catching the mother right before she left with her son. I couldn’t even look at him. Sorrow swelled in my soul as I let someone else say the goodbyes. All I could muster was a, “We’re going to miss you, Andy.”
Looking back on that story and countless others that I have heard over the years, I am reminded that teachers should not be so quick to judge only by what we see in the classroom. Jesus tells us, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6: 37). There is always another side of the story that comes from home. It is in telling Andy’s story that I am reminded of how important parent communication is. How I wish we had gotten ahold of Andy’s mother sooner! What if I had pulled Andy to the side, knowing what he had been going through, and told him that I felt for him? Would he have produced more for me? Would that move have been that much easier on him?
As Christian teachers, we have the responsibility of acting out our faith through unconditional love and forgiveness. Even with those kiddoes that push our buttons. Christ almost laughingly comments that loving only those that love us is easy. Even the Pharisees do that! The challenge is to show that unconditional love toward all, even those who we think don’t deserve it. That type of love is clearly seen when Jesus says, “This is my commandment: love one another in the same way that I love you” (John: 15: 12). Jesus loves us all. He doesn’t make exceptions. His heart breaks for those that go wayward; and when those wayward souls make their way back to Him, you had better believe there is rejoicing in heaven!
Can you love like that? Be understanding like that? Nobody ever said being a Christian was easy. As our high flyers fly even a bit higher as the holiday break approaches, let us show them that same love that Christ shows us. You never know. You might just reach a lost soul that has never known what love and affection are.
(It is beyond comforting to know that I am loved no matter what. The fact that I can fail and fall short a hundred times and STILL be loved is unfathomable. That love is seen in Kristian Stanfill’s song “One Thing Remains.” I hope it encourages you below.)