31: When Steven Came Back to School

31: When Steven Came Back to School

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

When Steven Came Back to School

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

~Henry Adams

I’ve been in the teaching profession more than thirty years, and one of the best teachers I’ve even known was Mr. Rowe. I was lucky enough to co-teach fourth grade with him in an open classroom many years ago. We had fun teaching together, and our kids had fun learning.

Mr. Rowe had infinite patience and understanding, and I learned so much from watching him. He could perform miracles, like the one he performed with Steven, one of the unhappiest kids I ever saw. Steven couldn’t stand school. He didn’t like being picked last for kickball, he didn’t like the kids who raised their hands and knew all the answers, and most importantly, he didn’t like himself.

The first day he walked into Mr. Rowe’s classroom, he ignored the other students, scowled, and slid into his chair, knocking a couple of textbooks onto the floor.

Mr. Rowe walked over to him and touched Steven’s shoulder, but Steven pulled away. Nevertheless, Mr. Rowe welcomed him: “Hi, Steven. I’m happy you’re in my class. We’re gonna have a great year.” Steven looked around the room as if Mr. Rowe must be mistaken. No teacher in his right mind would want Steven to be a part of his classroom.

So, while Mr. Rowe seemed cheerful and relaxed that very first day of school, it seemed like Steven was angry and confused. He stood up, knocking his chair over, and kept looking around the room. “Are you talking to me?” he shouted, a little too loud. “You can’t be happy that I’m in your class. No one is ever happy when I’m in the room.”

Most kids nodded in agreement. A very brave kid laughed out loud. Steven’s eyes narrowed, and his hands knotted into fists.

But Mr. Rowe gave him a wide, genuine smile. “Believe what you want, but this is a new day and a new beginning. This year, you can become the Steven you want to be.”

“Yeah, right,” Steven grumbled, but he seemed to smile a little to himself as he sat down.

That day, Mr. Rowe chose Steven to pitch the kickball at recess. “Hey, Steven,” Mr. Rowe commented, “you’re pretty good at pitching. Let me show you my secret trick.” Mr. Rowe taught Steven a one-of-a-kind pitch that rolled straight just until a kid’s foot was about to make contact. Then that ball would curve quickly to the right.

Not a single kid could score with that trick ball. Steven tried the pitch; it wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough. His team cheered him on, and a kid or two even patted him on the back. “Way to go!”

After recess, Steven sat as close to Mr. Rowe as he could. When a question was asked, Steven lit up; he knew the answer. He raised his hand timidly, barely in the air at all. And he looked down, eyes focused on his feet.

Mr. Rowe called on him. When he answered, his voice shook. A few kids laughed, and Steven scowled. And then he got the answer right.

So that was pretty much how Steven’s first day at school went. And later, when his former third grade teacher asked him, “How’s fourth grade?” he shrugged and said, “It stunk.” But I had a sneaking suspicion it was the best first day of school Steven ever had.

That is not to say that every day went smoothly. Sometimes, Steven would act out. But Mr. Rowe always pointed out the good things that Steven did, and calmly and quietly helped Steven regain control.

It was evident that Steven grew to love Mr. Rowe more and more with each passing day.

Time passed quickly that year, and before we all knew it, it was the very last day of school, and kids were boarding the buses to go home.

Our school has a very special tradition on the last day. The teachers fill the sidewalk, waving goodbye to the kids as the buses pull out with their horns honking. It’s a parade of yellow school buses filled with happy kids going off for summer vacation.

But on that particular day, Steven walked slowly to the bus, his head down, tears in his eyes. He boarded the bus reluctantly, hesitated, and then ran back off of the bus to hug Mr. Rowe one last time. Steven sobbed, “I don’t want to leave you! I don’t want to go.”

Mr. Rowe had a tear in his eye, too, and he whispered, “I know, Buddy. I’m gonna miss you, too.”

Many years later, Mr. Rowe and I were surprised when a handsome young man walked into our classroom. He stood tall and proud in a Marine Corps uniform.

He hugged Mr. Rowe, and then Steven said quietly, “I came back to school today to say thanks.”

I hope that every child has a teacher as life changing as Mr. Rowe. It is my hope, as well, that every teacher gets to have the experience of a former student coming back to say a very simple “Thanks.” That is the true measure of a teacher’s success.

~Katherine Mabb

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