The opportunity to build relationships is really what can make teaching rewarding. However, with the population I teach, the opportunity to build relationships that are not just supportive, but can be a lifeline and impact a student in a tangible way is all around me. Often these kids are not likeable, are discipline problems, and poor students.
Devon is what we call a "hot mess." He is frequently in trouble, his grades are marginal at best, and he has a really bad habit of telling outrageous lies for attention. He came in about a quarter of the way into the school year and my first memorable experience with him was when he came into my mid-term exam saying,
"Man! I gots to get da fuk outta here!"
"But," I said, more than a little taken aback, "you have to take your exam first!"
"FUCK DAT!" Devon responded, and then he walked out.
Luckily, we bonded back when I asked him to teach me some moves for the Old Skool Dance we had last winter. The look on his face watching me attempt to imitate him was priceless. He would shake his head and go, "Miz Nilknarf! Why you so stiff? You gotta stop being so white!"
We've gotten to a much better place and now he is like a puppy. An omnipresent puppy, always getting into things and keeping me from getting my work done! He lives with his grandparents and I try to sift through the tales he tells me to discover what is real and what is not. Whatever it is, it isn't good. I still struggle to be patient with him. He isn't defiant anymore, but he needs constant redirection, puts forth minimal effort, and is very quick to take advantage.
Anyway, we are doing a project on archetypes in literature (the hero, the villain, the mentor, the faithful companion). I asked them to create a collage where they are the hero and tell their story, assigning archetypes to significant people in their lives. As I'm explaining this to Devon again after class he says,
"So would I put Derek Jeter on there for my mentor?"
"No, a mentor isn't the same thing as an idol. A mentor is someone who is a part of your life that inspires and guides you," I explain again.
"Well, Derek Jeter does that for me."
Literally, the child started tearing up. He says, "Well I don't have nobody like that...just you."
This is the moment where I want to burst into tears, hug him, and invite him to live with me, and right all of the various injustices that Life has handed this poor kid.
Instead I smiled and said, "Well, then put me on there. That would be an honor."