In the same weeks that I cooked the Chicken Enchiladas, one of the students brought a friend home from school to hang out, play video games, and eat dinner. He had been a new student this year, and lets just say the transition was a ROUGH ONE. But despite his rebellion and fight and arguing with the system, I still saw hope in him. I knew he had a good heart in him and it was just a matter of continuing to work with him until he warmed up to life in a place where people cared. In many ways, he reminded me of my brother and of many guys I had known over time. The tough rough exterior with the I have no feelings attitude and I will do whatever I want whenever I want. But there was something in me that made him stand out to me and I would help him if he needed it. So there were days he was riding his bike to school in the rain, so one day I offered to give him a ride instead. It was hard for him to accept at first, but then his need to NOT be soaking wet all day at school seemed to over take his unwillingness to accept my help.
We had our challenging moments in the classroom. We disagreed about what he could or couldn’t do during teaching time, and he completely rebelled against any limits we had on secular music and swearing. He thought he was sneaky, but for some reason I was the only teacher who ever seemed to catch him doing ANYTHING inappropriate. Guess with some students you really truly can read their minds. It was a challenge but it was the good kind. He tested my patience but I never reached the end of my rope. I knew I had a Christ-like love for this student maybe a little bit deeper than the others, simply because he always seemed to be left behind. There were times he wasn’t picked up from school, there were times he didn’t seem to know what to do or where to go. It was almost like so much at home was in chaos or confusion most of the time.
Then a few months later there he was at Nick’s house, his buddy, just kickin’ it like he had done with so many other of his friends over the years. He was his typical distant self with me always keeping the tough guy wall between him and me. Making sure to not get too close and not in any way reveal any sort of weakness. When dinner was served, we all prayed the typical Thank you for the food, bless you and you, may God be with us in the times to come, etc, etc. Then we all lifted our heads and started eating. Passing the dish left and right, napkins reached for and drinks poured, the usual chaos that accompanied dinner with 2 teenagers. But there he sat, just staring at his food. At first glance I thought I had made something he didn’t like. I thought that he was going to rebel in silent defiance to eat what I had prepared; in an almost you can’t get to me through my stomach woman.
So I ventured a dive into the private waters and asked, “Jeff, what’s up?” And there was silence for just a moment. And he looked at his dinner as if it were a peace-offering given from one native tribe to another and said, “My teacher made me dinner.” And in words that cannot be described on a printed page, his expression of shock, awe, and complete disbelief enveloped this one statement. He was so perplexed by the idea that one of his EDUCATIONAL MASTERS (the one who lords over him during the day) had just cooked him his dinner that he had to take pause. It was as if he wasn’t sure how to feel about this situation. He was confused because this was not something that TEACHERS did for students, and obviously had never been done for him.
There was nothing more to say so we continued with our dinner and the boys continued to do what Jr high boys do until I drove Jeff home. In the weeks that followed something was different in the classroom. I don’t know if he made a conscious change or if his behavior really altered from the previous actions; but there was a change. There was a new connection between him and I and a new respect was formed in our teacher and student relationship. To this day, chicken enchiladas reminds me of the boy who sat in awe at the teacher that made him dinner. And me completely oblivious of the impact a few rides in the rain and a home cooked meal could have on the heart of a student. I did it because it was the right thing to do. At least, it’s what I would have done. 😀