Footprints on My Heart

Footprints on My Heart

From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Footprints on My Heart

Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while and leave footprints on our heart and we are never, ever the same. the same.

Tanya Cuva

On a bitterly cold January day a new student walked into my fifth-grade class for students with learning disabilities, leaving his footprints on my heart. The first time I saw Bobby, he was wearing a tank top and a pair of threadbare jeans, obviously too small, despite the cold weather. One of his shoes was missing a lace, and it flopped up and down when he walked. Even if he had been wearing a decent set of clothes, Bobby wouldn’t have looked like a normal child. He had a haunted, neglected, lost look about him that I had never seen before and hope that I never see again.

Not only did Bobby look strange, but his behavior was so bizarre that I was convinced he belonged in a classroom that taught social skills. Bobby thought that a rounded sink in the hallway was a urinal, his normal tone of voice was a yell, he was obsessed with Donald Duck and he never made eye contact with anyone. He blurted out comments continuously during class. Once he proudly announced to everyone that the P.E. teacher told him that he smelled bad and had made him put on deodorant.

Not only were his social skills atrocious, but his academic skills were nonexistent. Bobby was 11 years old and he couldn’t read or write. He couldn’t even write the letters of the alphabet. To say that he didn’t fit in among my classroom students was an understatement.

I was sure that Bobby was misplaced in my room. I checked his records and was shocked to learn that his I.Q. was normal. What could account for his bizarre behavior? I talked with the school counselor, who told me that he had met Bobby’s mother. He said, “Bobby is a lot closer to normal than she is.” I searched the records further and found that Bobby had been placed in foster care for the first three years of his life. After that he was returned to his mother and they had moved to a different town at least once a year. So that was it. Bobby’s intelligence was normal, and despite his odd behavior, he would remain in my room.

I hate to admit it, but I resented him being in my class. My room was crowded enough and I already had several demanding students. I had never tried to teach someone whose abilities were at such a low level. It was a struggle to even plan lessons for him. The first few weeks he was at school I would wake up to find my stomach in knots, dreading to go to work. There were days when I would drive to school and hope that he wouldn’t be there. I took pride in being a good teacher, and I was disgusted with myself for not liking him and not wanting him in my class.

Despite the fact that he drove me crazy, I tried valiantly to treat him like all of the other students. I never allowed anyone to pick on him in my classroom. However, outside of the room, the students made a game out of being mean to him. They were like a pack of wild animals attacking one of their own for being sick or hurt.

About a month after he started at the school, Bobby came into my room with his shirt torn and his nose bloodied. He had been jumped on by a group of my students. Bobby sat down at his desk and pretended that nothing was wrong. He opened his book and tried to read it as blood and tears mingled and dripped onto the pages. Outraged, I sent Bobby to the nurse and unleashed a verbal fury on the students who had hurt him. I told them that they ought to be ashamed of themselves for not liking him because he was different. I yelled that just because he acted strangely, this was even more reason to treat him kindly. At some point during my verbal assault, I started to listen to my own words and I resolved that I would have to change my thoughts toward him as well.

That incident changed how I felt about Bobby. I finally saw past his bizarre behavior and saw a little boy in desperate need of someone to care about him. I realized that the true test of a teacher was not just teaching academics but meeting the needs of the students. Bobby had extraordinary needs that I had to fill.

I started buying Bobby clothes from the Salvation Army. I knew that the students made fun of him because he only had three shirts. I carefully chose clothing that was in good condition and in style. He was thrilled with the clothes and it improved his self-esteem tremendously. I escorted Bobby to classes whenever he was worried about being beaten up. I spent extra time with him before school working on homework.

It was amazing to see the change in Bobby that resulted from the new clothes and extra attention. He came out of his shell and I found that he really was a likeable child. His behavior improved and he even started making brief eye contact with me. I no longer dreaded going to work. I actually looked forward to seeing him coming down the hallway in the morning. I worried about him when he was absent. I noticed that as my attitude toward him changed, so did the behavior of the other students. They stopped picking on him and included him as a part of the group.

One day Bobby brought a note to school that said he would be moving in two days. I was heartbroken. I hadn’t managed to get him all of the clothes I wanted to. I went to a store on my break and bought him an outfit. I gave it to him and told him that it was his goodbye present. When he saw the tags on the clothes he said, “I can’t ever remember wearing brand-new clothes before.”

Some of my students found out that Bobby was moving, and after class several of them asked if they could give him a goodbye party the next day. I said, “Sure,” but I thought to myself, “They can’t remember to do their homework. There’s no way they can organize a party by tomorrow morning.” To my surprise they did. The next morning they brought in a cake, streamers, balloons and presents for Bobby. His tormentors had become his friends.

On Bobby’s last day of school, he walked into my classroom carrying a huge backpack filled with children’s books. He enjoyed the party, and, after things had settled down, I asked him what he was doing with all of the books. He said, “The books
are for you. I have lots of books so I thought maybe you should have some.” I was sure that Bobby didn’t have anything of his own at home, certainly not books. How could a child who at one time only had three shirts have lots of books?

As I looked through the books, I found that most of them were library books from various places where he had lived. Some of the books had written in them, “Teacher’s personal copy.” I knew that the books didn’t really belong to Bobby and that he had acquired them through questionable means. But he was giving me all that he had to give. Never before had anyone ever given me such a wonderful gift. Except for the clothes on his back, which I had given him, Bobby was giving me all that he owned.

As Bobby left that day he asked me if he could be my pen pal. He walked out of my room with my address, leaving me his books and his footprints forever on my heart.

Laura D. Norton

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