At the beginning of the school year, if you had asked fifth-grader Elvin who he was, he probably would have given the same answer as everyone else who knew him…
“I am the bad kid.”
Elvin visited the office regularly. He bothered kids while standing in line. His seat partners were actually afraid of what he might do next. He was an angry, struggling introvert, suffering from a difficult situation at home that had recently exploded into divorce.
I knew Elvin needed something, but I wasn’t quite sure what at first. So, I observed him closely. It didn’t take long before I noticed that instead of doing his homework or socializing, he spent his free time in my class bent over a piece of paper, drawing.
One day, after he’d once again offended his seat partner, I realized something had to change. So, while the rest of the class was at recess, I pushed another desk and chair up against Elvin’s and then moved them both to the outside edge of the classroom seating arrangement. When he returned from recess, I told him to get his art supplies out of his backpack and arrange them inside the empty desk now adjacent to his.
“This is your new office,” I said. “After you finish your daily assignments, you can raise your hand so I can take a glance at your work. If no additional work is needed, then you may pull the art supplies out of your office and draw.”
From that day on, Elvin began to focus on his lessons and complete his assignments. In addition to finishing his school work, he did not get out of his seat and bother other students because his office workspace and drawing supplies were so handy.
A few days after we established this new routine, I asked to see what he’d been drawing. He pulled the sheets out of his office and tentatively displayed them for me. I was amazed to see that he had created a graphic novel-style story, featuring a superhero who rescued people. The drawings were clear and neat; the dialogue bubbles were easy to read. I was impressed, and I told him so.
“With your permission, I’d like to make a few copies of your graphic story for our classroom library so students can read it during silent reading time. Think about it.”
The next day, he brought his polished story to me, and I made copies for the classroom library.
When the first child took a copy to her desk, I could see Elvin observing her out of the corner of his eye. She read it and looked up, smiling. That’s all it took. His story spread through the class, and requests were made for more.
A couple of weeks later, it warmed my heart to hear a fellow student standing in line next to Elvin say, “I sure like your superhero guy.”
Students began to treat Elvin with respect. He was becoming famous for something good, and his identity was changing. He remained an introvert, still anxious due to his home circumstances, but he demonstrated better behavior, self-confidence, and purpose.
By the end of the school year, if you had asked Elvin who he was, he would probably have given the same answer as everyone else who knew him…
“I am an artist-writer.”
Jesus had a “bad kid” in His class too. No, I don’t mean Judas. I’m talking about Peter.
I imagine that if you had asked Peter who he was while Jesus was suffering on the cross, he probably would have given the same answer as everyone else who knew him…
“I am an impulsive, disloyal fisherman.”
But, when Jesus looked at Peter, he saw something different.
Jesus still saw great purpose in Peter even though he had jumped into the water when he saw Jesus walking on it during a storm and then sank until Jesus helped him focus…cut off a guard’s ear when Jesus was arrested…denied Jesus three times and then ran off and wept while Jesus died on the cross…
After the resurrection, Jesus took Peter aside and asked him three times, “Peter, do you love me?”
Peter answered three times, “Yes, I love you.”
Each time, Jesus responded by commissioning Peter to teach and care for His followers.
Jesus gave this impulsive, disloyal fisherman an opportunity to ease his self-loathing—three times. He restored Peter, delivering him from his agony with forgiveness. And He gave Peter a new identity as a preacher.
If you had asked Peter who he was after God used him to preach sermons that changed the lives of thousands for eternity and share the gospel message throughout the world, he would probably have given the same answer as everyone else who knew him…
“I am a preacher with a purpose.”
Later in his life, Peter added writer to his resume, followed by his last minutes as a martyr, ushered into glory where he reconnected with his teacher, Jesus. I wish I could have seen that reunion.
As Christian educators, we have the opportunity to help our students, even the difficult ones, discover their purposes. We can challenge the way our students who have learning struggles, home-life frustrations, and social problems see themselves…
“I am the bad kid.”
“I am the stupid kid.”
“I am the weak kid.”
“I am the worthless kid.”
We can observe them and search for areas where they excel. Then, we can encourage them and help them share their successes, gifts, and talents with others. We can help them develop positive identities…
“I am an excellent artist.”
“I am a trustworthy friend.”
“I am a great singer.”
“I am a masterpiece with a purpose.”
*The name of the student and some details have been changed.
Connie Averitt Williams is a retired teacher with a heart for struggling students. She is the author of Ants Across the Page, a story told from the point of view of a dyslexic child. It deals with the effects on his school life, family, and self-esteem. Her website is strugglersandothers.com.
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