Whatever you did for one of the least of these…

Posted: November 21, 2009 in Learning..., Theory
Tags: , , , , , ,

In my entry-level class, I have a student. Let’s call him Gonzo (no actual resemblance). Gonzo is that kid. He is the one who must be off in another world, well, all of the time. I explain something to a (finally) quiet classroom. Heads are nodding, kids are smiling. Directions stop and, like a shotgun start, heads snap down, pencils pop up and the “work” of education continues. Gonzo’s hand comes up. “Okay, so what are we supposed to do?”

Those around Gonzo (and even those on the other side of the room from Gonzo) groan. An audible heave of the “Oh, Gonzo” emotion. Some days it takes all they have to not spout off some snide remark.

Gonzo is not stupid. He’s not even a blue kid. He just sometimes needs to be spoken to directly (one-on-one) when giving directions, and sometimes, even then, even after a one-on-one session with head nodding and eye tracking, I turn to walk away and leave him to his now-guided work, and the hand shoots up again. “Okay, so wait. Now what am I supposed to do?”

A sigh breathes past my lips and I hold back a snide remark, but I turn around and go back because it’s my job to teach… not to give him a hard time.

And this is where I caught myself last week. This is where I had to change.

Another student asks a question, also not listening. I smile, jaunt over and cover what they missed with a sparkle in my eye and enthusiasm in my voice.

Did I probably treat Gonzo exactly the same way the first, second, third, twenty-third time that he asked the question? Yes. I might even put money on that. But when that enthusiasm stopped started to wane, I didn’t even notice. I didn’t notice until last week when I found myself refraining from my snide remark. That’s also when I noticed my squinty, tired eyes, my Bueller voice, and my slumped posture as I spoke with him. It was the tired me that sometimes slips by the attitude-bouncer, but it’s also the me I don’t like seeing.

They say kids know the real truth about people and what we are feeling, the truth that can be hidden from many adults. Our children are watchers. They watch us to see if they can trust us. They watch us to see how much we care. They watch us to see who we really are. They watch us in the times when we are most tired and dealing with people who may not be the easiest to deal with. Perhaps they watch us most at that time because it shows some of our true character. It shows them how we might react to them someday.

I often have conversations with students about how ethics aren’t really meaningful until they’re tried and tested in the tough situations, and last week I caught myself not living up to my own standards.

There is a story in the book of Matthew (25) about the end-of-times as Jesus says to those on his right, “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

The people respond that they didn’t remember ever having fed or clothed him, to which he responds, “40I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

I think our students see the same. They see how we treat the kids who are the most outrageous, the kids who are the most persistent, the kids who are the least respectful, the kids who just don’t listen, and somewhere inside, they take it to heart: all the more reason to not start slipping down that slippery slope.

This week I made a renewing effort to wipe clean, to be excited, and to share that excitement with everyone, but especially Gonzo. I’m doing it for Gonzo, I’m doing it for the Gonzo watchers, but mostly I need to be doing it because I think it’s right and it’s who I believe I really am… and I need to be that no matter the circumstance.

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