100: Breaking the Ice

100: Breaking the Ice

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

Breaking the Ice

To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.

~Henri-Louis Bergson

I will always remember the day that Josh walked into my fifth grade classroom. The scowl on his face made me realize I was in for a long year with this boy. Josh was brilliant. He was doing seventh grade math with ease. He was an incredible artist, a beautiful writer and a great athlete.

Josh was also failing every single class. He would not do what he did not want to do. Telling him to do something multiple times made the scowl appear and his obstinacy grow deeper. Even when I went to put my hand on his shoulder, he would recoil like I had burned him.

Our first few months together were a constant cycle of me encouraging him to do better, Josh getting angry, and me getting frustrated and feeling helpless. One day, when I was walking by his desk, I noticed that Josh was drawing instead of writing. As I was about to redirect this behavior, I noticed how beautiful the drawing was. It was better art than I had seen some professionals do. I told him how beautiful it was and kept walking around the classroom.

At the end of the day, all the children packed up, and we walked out to the parking lot together. After they left, I went back to my classroom and sat at my desk. The picture that I had complimented was there. My eyes began to tear up as I realized that this was the first sign of the ice breaking between us.

The next day, knowing very well that he would not want any public acknowledgement, I privately thanked Josh for his artwork. For the first time all year, I saw a smile. I noticed as the day progressed that Josh would strike up a conversation with me, even though it was brief. This from the boy who had avoided me from day one. These small conversations escalated to jokes and real talks about life.

I soon learned that Josh’s life was not easy. He, like many of his peers at the school, had been forced to grow up too fast. He was doing his best to stay out of trouble and make sure his older brother stayed out of trouble, too.

Josh liked a challenge. To motivate him to write an essay, I challenged him to a race. If he completed the essay, I would have a foot race with him. He accepted the challenge and completed the essay. As promised, I brought my running shoes the next day. I had another teacher watch my class while we went outside to race. I knew I was going to lose, but went through with it anyway.

He beat me… terribly. He felt so bad about how easily he had beaten me that he asked if I wanted a redo. I did not want to be embarrassed twice, so I politely declined. When we arrived back in the classroom, all of the students wanted to know who won. I was fully ready to publicly accept my defeat, but Josh announced to the classroom, “That is between Ms. Blake and myself. You do not need to know.” I was stunned by his kindness and mature attitude.

At the end of the day, while I was walking the kids out to the parking lot, Josh’s stepsister ran up and gave me a hug as usual. Shortly after, I felt another pair of arms wrap around my waist. I turned to see Josh, the boy who did not want me to touch his shoulder, giving me a hug. He looked at me and said, “Thank you for getting me,” and then ran off to get into his car. That was when the final barrier between us fell.

To this day, I keep in regular contact with Josh to make sure he is doing well at his new school. I am also the proud owner of several of his original works of art. I had them framed, and they hang in my home. He is one of the many students who taught me to never give up on a child. They all want to succeed, and they all want love; all it takes is a little patience.

~Jessica Blake

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