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What Every Struggling Student Needs to Hear

Parents, this is why it's important to put your kids first.

I’ve been subbing for a few months now. The last few months of subbing have shown me some surprising repetition among the students. No, these students don’t all come from the same cut cloth, or clique, or whatever generalization you’d like to make. These kids are the full spectrum of personality and background. Within that kaleidoscopic spectrum, I found some common themes that may shock you.

I saw apprehension in them. I saw fear, skepticism, deeply rooted fragments of doubt projected by their own reflection. I saw a sinister type of projection from their family plastered unto them from dark shadows lurking behind their backs. They don't see it because their eyes are looking at the "illumination" that is supposed to be lighting their way but is only darkening their perception of themselves and life in broad daylight. Yet they wish and try "just one more time..." I saw something that wanted to be, yet, was just too afraid to become. How do I know?

At the root of it all, I’m a kid at heart with an old soul. I just turned 22 in May, I look 16, and these kids get thrown for a loop when they see me. At first, they don’t know how to act or think of me, they're confused on how to respect someone similar in age yet in a position of authority.

These looks spread across their faces as blatantly as if they smeared red paint on themselves. They usually give me the benefit of the doubt shrouded in skepticism.  Throw me in there, and what do you get? They don’t know and neither will you... not until the end.

The First Day

It was a hot day in the afternoon of late June when I was subbing summer school. From my previous stint of subbing, I didn’t think it would be bad at all. That is... until the kids made fun of my shoes... I saw how it was going to go from there on out.

In the midst of this glimpse into ill tempered adolescence, another student came into the classroom. He was semi-distractible, irritable, and above else pissed off. He stared down his schoolwork such as that, by the grace of God, he may burn it with his gaze. The young man was adamant on doing everything possible to abstain from his work (and if he was going to abstain, then all else must follow his doing).

I sat on the desk and re-averted his attention to his work where he proclaimed absolute hatred for the whole system of education. The spits of fire were so scorching that even I was almost persuaded. I had to admit he had a few good points, however, he misunderstood the reasoning, the intent.

Later on, I sat on the table next to him, watched with a careful eye of him doing his work. As long as I was there he seemed content with doing these “pointless” papers for these “classes that meant nothing in long the run."

He interspersed his work with off topic questions for me. The more I answered, the more he worked and the more the fire simmered down. It occurred to me that these questions were simply reflections of the answers that he wanted for his own situations.

Afterward, I found out that this young man had a tragic story. My soul shook for his grief. This student had been abandoned by his family and before they left, they made sure he knew he wasn't enough. This child, in by the 9th grade, had already been subjected to self-hate, abuse, and abandonment by those who he still looked at to be his #1 supporters. He thought, "If they don't love me, how could anyone... what's wrong with me?"

I looked at him with a deep reverence for his emotions. They were justified, he deserved to be heard, and he deserved to be understood. He felt that anyone trying to help him, even the school system, was lying. I told him one last thing before he left and a flood of silence immersed him as acceptance seeped onto his face.

Toward the end of his time, he stood up, turned to look at me at my desk and asked with a small sense of bravery, “You’re here tomorrow too, right?” I nodded yes and told him absolutely with a smile that made the sun seem dim. He replied while looking down, “Good, I’ll be here first thing in the morning—well, probably before it starts actually…” I grinned and told him I looked forward to it.

The Next Day

Another student came in. He was also quiet, but his demeanor was quite contrasting to my other student from the day before. He pulled a seat right at my desk, smiled timidly but he let his smile touch his eyes and allowed his voice to be as transparent as his attitude.

“I am totally lost.” He expressed as he first sat down and pushed a math packet toward me. He was easy to talk to, like a brother or a friend you've known since high school. His shyness lingered in the light but there was something that didn’t let that hold him back. It gave him the gift of approach-ability. I did not think our visit would extend for as long as it did nor did I think I would hear the story that came from him…

He too began to ask me familiar questions on family, perspective, and yearned to seek advice on these topics. This time, I understood. I told him my perspectives and furthermore backed it up with my own experiences as the reasons why my perspectives were so. A tug at the corner of his mouth grew into a full curtain draw; letting out (or in) so much light, that again, it touched his eyes. Astonished he was to find that he and I had similar experiences and so his story came out to me in full. This time, the light flickered a little more strongly.

The pain that radiated from the images his words conveyed came out of the darkest shadows. His family resided in a far off country on another continent, one of his parents abandoned him, and the other didn't know how to teach him what he needed. He felt like a disappointment and as if he wasn't worthy. He asked me questions about if I thought you had to love your family because you were related. If you must continuously forgive those who continuously hurt you. It was clear that these shadows eclipsed his mind most of the time, but didn’t touch his heart. Somehow, he had managed to keep that ignited. Perhaps, that ignition is what illuminated the rest of his mind and kept the shadows merely that; just shadows in the corners.

I know because I too have seen my own shadows. I have felt them creep deeper and deeper into my mind and injecting its potent poison of Doubt into my thoughts. With every piece of his story, I gave a piece of mine to parallel. As this ping-pong game of trust went on, his spirit showed brighter.

We wrapped up the conversation, once finished, a smile of pure understanding broke out onto his face, “Wow… I just can’t believe that... I would have never once thought that you had gone through these things just by looking at you. You look so well put together, really smart, and are successful! This… this really gives me hope.”

These kids come from the darkest places. Hearing them speak about their future is a red light that barely burns. As they try to speak about their future further and further down the road the flame dwindles; it flickers. The tone, the choice of words, the pitch, the rate at which they speak, they tell it all as if they don't have time to cover it and if only most adults saw the looks on their faces flickering in that last bit of light, maybe things would be different.

I concluded the conversation with him, just as I had with my other student the day before, and left him with this:

“We cannot let people dictate how we feel about ourselves. We cannot let people dictate how we perceive ourselves. We cannot let people have the power to make us feel like we are unworthy of success and love. Even if these people who are doing this are the closest people to us. The people who are supposed to show us care the most, the people who are supposed to provide for us, and the people who are supposed to be there above everyone else; our parents, our sisters, our brothers, grandparents, etc. Unfortunately, some people are in the situation where these people genuinely do not care for them. This is absolutely through no fault of your own. You ask yourself, 'Why? Why wasn’t I good enough? Why am I not worthy? What makes me different? What’s the point then if my own family doesn’t care? Why should I?' But you must know, it is not your fault. You must realize, your worth is not dependent on someone else, no matter how close they are supposed to be to you. Your perception of yourself should not be dictated by someone who won’t even take the time to really see you. You know who you are, you know what you want to be, you know who you wish to become. The only person whose perception matters about you is yourself. Once you realize that, you will be able to believe in yourself and all that you can do. My friend, it is not you who is not good enough for them, it is they who are not good enough for you.”

And I hope this was good enough for them.

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