My third year teaching I had a student in my class who won my heart from day one. He was funny, a hard worker, and seemed to get along with everyone. Other kids seemed to really like him and he was often seen laughing and cutting up in the hallways. The first day he walked into my classroom, my teacher heart tightened. You see, this student was smaller than a lot of other eighth grade boys, and girls for that matter, but what stood out was that the side of his face and his neck were deeply scarred from a burn accident he had suffered as a small child. I had been told that his parents were cooking meth and a fire associated with improper cooking methods had caused the burns. As soon as I saw him and heard his story, I worried that other kids would make fun of him and wondered what unkind words he had heard in the hallways and bathrooms or at home in his own house. I immediately wanted to protect him and to make sure that my classroom was a safe place for him.
Soon after the year started, another student of mine, Hunter, was given In School Suspension (ISS). This was my second year teaching Hunter and I was shocked that he was in any kind of trouble. When he arrived in class, I asked what he had done to receive ISS. He told me he had hit my other student when they were in the bathroom. Hunter said that the other boy had told him that he had no feeling in the areas where he was burned and that if someone hit him as hard as they could, he wouldn’t feel it. He dared Hunter to hit him to prove that he had no feeling in his neck and face. Hunter said he was hesitant, but he was also curious, so he hit him. Word got out, as it does in a middle school, and Hunter got in trouble.
Hunter served his time and school went on until one morning when I was pulled out of my class by my principal. It was rare to be asked to leave a class, but an assistant arrived and I walked down the hall with my principal who was visibly upset. I knew I hadn’t done anything, but was nervous to find out what was going on that was urgent enough to have me leave in the middle of a lesson. When we arrived in his office, I was told that the Department of Child Services had taken my student with them that morning. We had no information as to where he had gone or if and when he would return. He was just gone. We were all upset, especially not having had the opportunity to say goodbye and for him to have no warning that his whole life was once again going to be turned upside down as he was placed in the foster care system.
When it was time for his class that afternoon, his absence was a heavy presence in the room. Students were curious where he was and those questions came for several days, but I was not allowed to share what little information I had. His story pressed heavy on my mind and I always hoped and prayed that he ended up somewhere wonderful, but was also fearful that he might end up back with his family or possibly with people who were even worse. I worried if I had done enough to show him that I cared.
The next year, on Christmas Eve, my mom and I had been doing some shopping out of town. We stopped at a grocery store on the way home to pick up some last minute Christmas dinner items. Mom and I were coming out at the end of an aisle when I looked up and saw that student. He was leaned over a barrel of boxed candies. He had grown to be really tall and had filled out some, but his scars told me immediately that it was him. I ran up to him and introduced myself. I was unable to hide my excitement in seeing him. He laughed and said he remembered me and asked how I was doing. We continued chatting when I noticed a lady was lingering nearby and eyeing me suspiciously. I immediately turned to her and introduced myself as his former teacher. Her face softened, she introduced herself as his mom, and we began talking. His smile widened as he told me that he had been adopted and was living in that town and going to the local high school. His mom beamed with pride as she told me that he was getting good grades and was on the football team. I told them that I had wondered about him over the years and that I was so happy to get to hear how he was doing. We wished each other Merry Christmas and said goodbye.
I turned to rejoin my mom and she asked me who they were. I struggled to get the words out through my tears and had to wait until we were several aisles over before I could get myself together to tell her the whole story. I was so thankful that the Lord allowed me to know how things turned out for him, especially since I just happened to be in a town that was two hours away from the school where I met him and I just happened to be walking at the end of the aisle where he was standing on the same Christmas Eve doing last minute shopping. That encounter has been several years ago now, but it makes my heart glad every time I think about it.
As a teacher, I have heard many stories about my students and their home lives that weigh heavy on my heart. Remembering the end of this kid’s story, gives me hope for the many others.