And man did I love my job!
It was one of those rare seasons in life where I knew with certainty that I was right where God wanted me.
Every single day I had the opportunity to SEE potential in each student that walked into my classroom. AND, to do everything I could to make them aware of their potential and to draw it out of them. My job was to build them up, spur them on, give them a chance, and help them to learn and grow.
And, like in parenting, there was simply no greater joy than when I saw a student take hold of his/her potential and do something great with it.
There is one student in particular who will always stick out to me as one with great potential.
His name was Kenny. It was my first year of teaching and Kenny joined my class a quarter into the start of the year.
Our first encounter together was rough. I expressed my delight to have him join my class and he responded with a, "Shut up bitch." I knew from the onset that this kid was going to be a great challenge.
For the next few weeks, he spent a lot of time in the principal's office or in detention. He got into fights with students almost daily, he talked back to authority, he called me names, he threw stuff at me, and he was just downright defiant most of the time.
Needless to say, Kenny and I spent a lot of time "talking" about his behavior and how he could improve it. I also made a good amount of phone calls to his dad who was rather indignant and tired of it all. (mom didn't have custody and he had a very poor relationship with stepmom)
I discovered very quickly that, like his behavior, his grades were also rotten. He was actually a smart kid but put forth little, if any, effort academically.
It took a lot of work and a lot of convincing to show him that I sincerely cared. Eventually he began to trust me and would even smile at me when I tried to talk or joke with him. Both his behavior and academics started to improve.
And I began to SEE TONS OF POTENTIAL in this young man. He was a natural leader, creative, witty, and smart with numbers. I started to share with him the potential I saw and did everything I could to spur him on toward using it for good.
Right about the time I was doing this, I was scheduling parent-teacher conferences. I was so excited to meet with Kenny's dad and tell him about all the improvements and growth I was seeing in Kenny.
I made the phone call a week before the conference and scheduled to meet both Kenny and his dad right after school let out. I made sure to tell his dad that I was very much looking forward to sharing with him the growth and improvements I was seeing in Kenny. His dad seemed unimpressed and only concerned that Kenny stay out of trouble.
The day of the conference arrived and I vividly remember pulling Kenny aside first thing in the morning and saying, "I am so excited to tell your dad about how well you've been doing lately." Kenny's eyes lit up and he gave me the biggest smile I had ever seen from him. I knew he was excited to have his dad hear GOOD things.
At lunch time, I made a call to his dad to remind him of our meeting. Based on his dad's past comments and attitude about Kenny, I was worried he wouldn't come. His dad, noticeably reluctant, said he would be there.
School ended and Kenny remained in the classroom with me where we anxiously awaited his dad's arrival. We set out all Kenny's papers, evidence of his growth, on the table.
After 10 minutes of waiting, Kenny became visibly upset. He started fidgeting and staring at the door.
After 10 more minutes, Kenny threw himself up and out of his chair and started to pack up.
I could see he was angry...I knew what that looked like for Kenny. But, for the first time I could also see he was hurting. I watched him fight tears and muster up the "I don't give a crap" attitude I saw often those first few weeks after he arrived.
And then he said with all the confidence in the world, "My dad ain't coming."
Not knowing how to respond I simply said, "I'm so sorry Kenny. Let's go ahead with the conference anyway."
He reluctantly agreed and I then spent the next 15 minutes doing ALL that I could to highlight the growth and potential I saw in him.
I saw glimpses of light in his eyes; maybe even a little bit of pride. But, the hurt remained.
The conference ended and Kenny left.
His dad never showed. His dad never called.
I literally wept the whole way home that night.
I was completely dumbfounded as to how a father could be so indifferent and uncaring to his son. I believe he had no intention of ever coming to the conference for his excuse the next day when I called him was that he "forgot."
As I cried for Kenny, it became crystal clear to me...his dad looked at Kenny and could only see the past wrongs and failures. He saw no potential in his boy, only failure. He figured any growth was going to be short lived and soon Kenny would revert back to his old self...a boy full of mistakes.
This is an incredibly hard story for me to tell.
It was a defining moment for me as a teacher where I realized that one of the most important parts of my job was taking every possible opportunity to point out to my students their potential. For, like in the case of Kenny, some of them had no one in their life who saw any.
As I type this, I am reminded of the conversion story of the apostle Paul. Here was a man who was at the forefront of persecuting the church. He was anti-Jesus in every way, shape, and form. But, God met him on the road to Damascus where he became a follower of Christ. [Acts 9:1-19]
Even after his incredible story of conversion, the disciples were skeptical.
Acts 9:26 says, "When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple."
Understandably so, the disciples wondered if his "conversion" was all a scheme to infiltrate their community and murder them. This would not have been too far fetched for the pre-converted Paul.
But, IN comes Barnabas.
Barnabas saw Paul through the eyes of Jesus. He saw the change God had done and Paul's POTENTIAL for good. So, he did what he could to convince the others to see what he saw. It worked and Paul was accepted into the community of believers.
Even the great apostle Paul needed someone to look beyond his horrible past and to see & encourage his potential for good.
As parents, we all need a person like this in our lives.
And so do our children.
They need someone who will strive to see and focus on their POTENTIAL rather than their past mistakes. They need a Barnabas.
Join me today and let's pray that God will put a Barnabas in each of our children's lives to spur them on, build them up, and encourage them to use their potential for good.
I pray for Kenny today, wherever he is. Would you put another Barnabas in his life who will see potential in him and do everything possible to spur him toward using it for good. I also pray for my children. Would you bless them with a Barnabas as well. Perhaps I could be that to them. Would you help me to be their Barnabas by seeing, focusing on, and pointing out their potential rather than their mistakes. And would you give me the wisdom and patience to spur them on toward using their potential for good.