(continued from Part I)
The next week Brad came to me, telling me that Lisa was letting her little sister call him names.
“He also called her names!” said Lisa, defending her sister.
Brad wanted me to punish Lisa’s sister for him, and when he saw that I wasn’t going to do that, he got upset. Kids have to learn how to handle problems themselves. If adults constantly solve their problems for them, they’ll grow up thinking it’s okay to run to other people whenever something goes wrong.
“Why do you listen to what she says?” I asked him. “Remember, you’re a lot stronger than her…”
He obviously liked it when I said that.
“…so because you’re stronger and older, you need to be the leader, and set the example. If she wants to say mean things to you, let her. If you say mean things back, you’ll both get in trouble. But if you don’t say anything and just ignore it, it’ll only make her look bad, and she’s the only one who’ll get in trouble. Being strong isn’t about being tough. It’s about doing the right thing, even when people are mean to you.”
At chapel that week we had a really outgoing pastor preach to the kids. He was a really unorthodox pastor, lighting a Bible on fire, and giving 5 dollars to the kid who behaved best during the sermon. His lesson was about love and about how Christianity is all about love, so he had his wife come up on stage next to him, and he kissed her.
This caused an uproar among the kids, and of course they all said, “Ewwww…!”
“What!?” he said, as if he were surprised by their reaction. “Kissing is good.”
My coworker sitting next to me looked at me and said, “I don’t know if it was a good idea to say that.”
“Definitely not a good idea,” I replied. “Oh my gosh,” I thought, “I can’t believe he just said that to the kids!” My mind started turning, thinking of what I’d have to say to the kids later to try to fix the situation. They might think kissing is gross now, but in a few years, that’s going to change, and the last thing they need is to think back and remember a pastor telling them that kissing is good. This must be what it feels like to be a parent: constantly vigilant about making sure your kids get the right influences.
But then the pastor added, “Here’s the thing. Kissing is only good if you’re married.”
My coworker turned to me again and said, “Okay, that made up for it.”
“Thank goodness he said that,” I said.
At lunch there was a big commotion. Word had gotten out that Brad liked a particular girl. All the kids were talking about it, making it a big deal, teasing him. Brad was smiling and laughing, acting as if it didn’t bother him at all. But later he walked away from the lunch table, past my coworker and I, and he looked distressed.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
He nodded, but judging by the look on his face, it was clear that he wasn’t.
My coworker and I looked at each other. “We’re gonna have to do some damage control,” I said, and she agreed. We told the kids we were tired of hearing them talk about it, and to stop. The talking gradually subsided. I went over to talk to Brad.
“Who cares if everyone knows? They were bound to find out eventually anyway. Let them say anything they want. You were man enough to actually admit it. Not everyone would have the guts to do that. You’re already a cool guy, so just be nice. Even if she doesn’t like you, I’m sure a lot of other girls will.”
That was the last I heard about the matter.
Later we took the kids on a hike, and I overheard the girl he liked making fun of him.
“You’re so short!” she told him.
Ouch. Poor guy. But he didn’t seem to let it bother him.
A few days later we were doing relay races, and Brad and this other boy were not getting along at all. They’d been fighting the whole day, seizing every opportunity to insult each other. It was bad. I think nearly all of the workers at some point talked to them about being nice to each other. “You guys have so much in common,” I said to both of them. “You two could be good friends.” Nothing we said seemed to help. They really were alike in so many ways, but it’s like all of their similarities were bumping into each other, and neither one was willing to make the effort to put their past transgressions behind them and get along.
The next week I noticed that Brad and the other boy were hanging out…all day! All the activities, all the games, they were next to each other, talking, and they were getting along. No one forced them to be together, they did so on their own free will. It’s like they became best friends. I have no idea what happened, but it was pretty amazing.
I’ve heard a lot of people, both kids and adults alike, refer to Brad as a troublemaker. It bothers me when I hear people putting him down. He’s been labeled a troublemaker by so many people that he came to believe that that’s who he really is, and accepted it as his role and identity. But Brad is really a good kid. He behaves well for me. So whenever I hear anyone talking bad about him, I respond by telling them about how well he behaves, and about how great a kid he is.
“Are we talking about the same kid? Brad, right? Little Brad?” That’s the usual response I get.
“He may be little, but he’s pretty strong.”
While I like working with all the kids, oftentimes the ones I like working with most are those who have been rejected or forgotten, those who others have given up on. They have so much potential waiting to be unlocked. It’s so exciting to see kids learn and grow.
Those kids who gave me so much trouble in the beginning became some of the best, most well-behaved kids. Remember those girls who, at first, kept attacking me? They turned into some of the sweetest, most well-behaved kids. One girl in particular seems to like me a lot. She used to give me more trouble than anyone. The other workers said that she’s usually troublesome. I’d discipline her, and made sure she knew that it was not okay to act up, but I also refused to believe in her as a troublemaker. Now she’s the biggest sweetheart.
Anyone can handle kids who are well-behaved. But as the Bible says, it’s people who are sick who need a doctor, not those who are healthy. Likewise, troubled kids are the ones who need teachers the most, yet many teachers are not willing to make the effort. They favor the “good kids” while ostracizing the “bad kids.” But there’s no such thing as a bad student, only bad teachers. Teaching is not merely a job, it’s a way to be a blessing. We never know when kids will look back and remember something we said or taught them. We should strive to be a good influence on them, even when they’re giving us a lot of trouble.
I’m convinced that there is no such thing as a bad kid, only bad situations. Behind every bad attitude is a wounded and hurting soul. I think a lot of troubled kids just need someone who believes in them.
Kids don’t misbehave for no apparent reason. There’s always an underlying issue. Oftentimes it’s because they’ve been hurt in the past, and they’re trying to cover up their pain. Take Brad, for example. Everyone makes fun of how short he is, and I think he feels he needs to make up for that in some way, which is probably why he acts up sometimes. As for those girls who were harassing me earlier, many of them have parents who are divorced.
Some kids come from broken homes, some kids have been hurt by authority figures in the past, and some kids have experienced worse. We may not know what the issue is, and oftentimes there’s not much we would be able to do about it anyway. The one thing we can do is be there for them. A lot of these “problem kids” are probably used to having people give up on them. I think that’s why they act up. So when someone gives up on them, it’s exactly what they expected. But when someone actually sticks with them long enough, their true nature is revealed, and we realize that they really are good kids. Just as God never gives up on us, I think it’s our duty to never give up on them.
(to be concluded in Part III)