98: The Child I Didn’t Want

98: The Child I Didn’t Want

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

The Child I Didn’t Want

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but first impressions are often entirely wrong.

~Lemony Snicket

I already hated dealing with Victor’s parents, their lack of cooperation and disconnected phone numbers. He was the youngest in a family that contained many children with behavior problems. I’d had a couple of his siblings in previous years and dreaded having this child in my class.

I taught first grade in a low-budget charter school that was quickly becoming known in our town for accepting unruly students, often those who’d been kicked out of another school for behavior problems. Teachers were not given the choice on their class rosters, and Victor would be my student whether I wanted him or not.

I didn’t mind that he came to school with no backpack, no lunch, filthy clothes, and was not quite potty-trained. I could loan him a Spiderman backpack and offer him granola bars. I was even willing to deal with the potty accidents. “No worries, Victor, that happens to everyone.”

But Victor was not like his siblings.

It was clear from the first day that he wanted to read books, not throw them. He didn’t yell. He didn’t break crayons on purpose. In fact, he paid attention, practiced reading when he was done with other subjects, and attended my after-school tutoring group of his own volition. He loved sitting cross-legged in a reading circle with a simple version of Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel. He quickly became a confident reader.

Instead of dreading Victor, I now looked forward to having him in class each day. He was an old soul, a gentleman’s gentleman with a delightful wit behind his dirty face and snot-smeared sleeves. And now that he was reading well, our next job together was writing. He often stayed in with me during recess, grumbling a little to save face with the other students. He diligently practiced the letters, shape by shape, mouthing the sounds each made. His pencil grip and letter size needed work, but we were making progress. As always, Victor was pleased with himself.

“Look what I can do!” was his battle cry when he made a perfectly formed letter A.

Unfortunately, Victor’s siblings were still having behavioral problems in school. His parents grew tired of the consequences the children earned and the regular phone calls from school administrators. One day, when I was home sick with the flu, Victor’s mother came to school to get all of her children, and she didn’t bring them back. Not even Victor. I was heartbroken. To take him away when I was out sick seemed cruel.

Although I knew it wasn’t about me, I felt punished by his mother’s choice. Victor was my responsibility. I was his teacher, and he was my student. We had stories to read and write, and now that would not happen. Not in my classroom, anyway.

His empty desk with a pile of playground sand underneath was all I had to remember him by. I felt guilty that he would go to a new teacher unable to write at grade level. We just hadn’t had enough time. And I didn’t even get to say goodbye.

It weighed on me the rest of the school year. As the other students progressed from writing sentences to paragraphs and then stories, I thought of Victor. He would have enjoyed writing a list of pets or a letter to a friend. As the reading curriculum grew more difficult, I thought, Victor was a strong reader. He would have been reading this, too. Occasionally, another student would say, “Remember Victor?” Yes, of course I did.

As the school year came to a close, I was doing playground duty on a hot, dusty afternoon. Students and teachers alike were sweaty, tired, and looking forward to drippy cherry Popsicles and summer days off. A woman walked up to our playground fence and said, “Are you Mrs. M?”

“Yes,” I said. “Do I know you?”

“No, but you were Victor’s teacher earlier this year, right? I work at Lake View School with Mrs. Kaye. She’s Victor’s teacher now, and she wants you to have this.” The woman handed me an envelope. I thanked her and opened it.

It was a hand-printed letter from Victor.

Dear Mrs. M,

I can write now. My favorite color is green. I miss you.

Love, Victor

The letter included a drawing, all in green, and a large smudge of dirt that proved it was Victor’s!

I did not know this teacher, Mrs. Kaye, but only a person who loved little Victor would bother to send his previous teacher a letter. She must have realized I would worry about him: his grubby self, his learner’s soul. Instead of feeling that my time with Victor had been cut short, I began to feel that Mrs. Kaye and I had the privilege of sharing him. Although I did not get to be the teacher who taught Victor to write, at least I had taught him to read. I’d had the joy of spending a few months of his life with him, of feeling he was mine.

Funny how, at the beginning of the year, he was the child I hadn’t wanted.

~Carrie Malinowski

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