31: Life Lessons

31: Life Lessons

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Life Lessons

Forgiveness is a funny thing. It warms the heart and cools the sting.

~William Arthur Ward

Toward the end of the school year, a student library aide tried to hook up a DVD player in my seventh grade social studies class. From the start, he impressed me with his helpful and positive can-do attitude. Though he worked diligently to set up the system, after fifteen minutes, he saw that the brackets wouldn’t allow the cord to slip into the socket. “You’ve worked so hard,” I encouraged. “The library is blessed to have you helping them; I’m so impressed with you. What is your name?”

He beamed with joy at the compliment. “Kevin. Kevin Smith.” Immediately my expression changed to one of shock and disbelief! After a long pause, he whispered, “Are you Trent’s mom?”

“Yes. Yes I am.”

Fear and embarrassment distorted his face. “Oh, please forgive me.”

At once, my mind replayed the last six months of my son, Trent’s, eighth grade year at the local public school. Since he’d attended a Christian school where I’d taught since kindergarten, changing to a public one was a new experience for both of us. I decided I’d try to get a job there, too, because I wanted to teach where Trent attended. A couple of months before, Trent had decided to enroll in a video production class offered at his new school.

To my relief, the public school maintained strict discipline; they held students to high standards. We both fit right in and enjoyed our year. Then around springtime, Trent changed. He no longer wanted to go to school. He begged to change back to our private one. Every morning I battled, threatened, and cajoled him. We’d arrive at school with him whining, “I just can’t do it mom. I just can’t go to school. Don’t make me. Don’t you understand, I just can’t do it?” However, he refused to share his reasons for making such a scene before school. Many days as I prepared to face my 170 students, I thought I’d pass out from the exhaustion of the morning.

Then Trent started hanging out in my classroom and wouldn’t go out to lunch with his friends. His sweatshirt hood pulled tight on his head made his melancholy look even scarier. His grades spiraled down, and he lost the special connection to his old school buddy. Unfortunately, that friend dropped Trent for another friend—it crushed him. My husband and I didn’t know what to do, but we knew we needed some help.

Over the next month, we met with Trent’s P.E. teacher, his youth pastor, and a church counselor. During the first session with the therapist, Trent broke down crying about a bully from school who wouldn’t leave him alone. To our shock, Trent shared that he’d been kicked, thrown down, and called filthy names. The session ended with Trent feeling better equipped to handle the bully at school. If that didn’t work, my husband and I were prepared to inform the principal about the situation.

Somewhat skeptical, we agreed to give Trent some time to handle the problem. It didn’t take long because the bully struck the next day. His P.E. teacher saw the incident and came down hard on him, but the next day, the bully struck again in the same class. The savvy teacher said, “We’re done,” and she sent the offender to the principal, who suspended the student.

We all breathed a long sigh of relief. The drama, however, continued. The bully became even more belligerent to Trent. The principal took harsher action with the punishment, and finally, the bullying stopped. As the offender suffered the consequences of his actions, Trent gradually returned to his old self. The hood came down, the scowl left, and he started hanging out with his friends again.

Before I met Kevin that day in my classroom, I envisioned grabbing him by the shirt and saying, “If you touch my son again, watch out, because I’m going to put on my boxing gloves!” The Mama Bear in me itched to take action. But when I realized that the helpful young man before me was the bully, my heart hurt for Kevin. For him to lash out so brutally, he must have his own dark struggles. He seemed to be just another student trying to find his way through the labyrinth of middle school.

“Please forgive what I did to Trent.” With pain in his eyes, Kevin stared at me. “I don’t know what got into me. I’m not like that! I think I just didn’t have enough sleep. I acted in a way that just wasn’t me. I don’t know what happened. I’m so sorry.”

“Kevin, we all make mistakes.” I comforted him and gently touched his shoulder. “Trent and I forgive you. We know you never wanted to act like that. Now, make a change. Go down the right path and never do that again. I know you can do it.”

He flashed me a grateful smile. “Thank you, Mrs. Ryan”

“No, thank you, Kevin. I’m so glad we’ve had the chance to meet.”

When I saw Trent later that day, he told me, “Mom, when I saw Kevin in P.E., he said you were chill.”

Graduation from the eighth grade is in six days and Trent and Kevin’s middle school days will be a memory. I’m proud of Trent, who so willingly forgave his abuser, but wouldn’t allow it to continue. He even picked Kevin to be on his P.E. team. I’m also proud of Kevin. It takes a mighty man to admit when you’re wrong. Let’s hope neither one of these middle school students will forget these life lessons. I know I never will.

~Suzy Ryan

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