Got a "Wild Child" on your hands? Maybe this is the Solution
As I waited for Mrs. Hawkins' IEP meeting, I recalled one of my first sessions several years back for Arch’. In a short period of time he had become one of the most disliked individuals in the school. Teachers cursed his presence, administrators despised him. But most of all the students outright hated him. He cheated, stole, fibbed, bad-mouthed, played dirty tricks, and beat on everyone just about all the time. There was no despicable act that he hadn’t perpetrated on his innocent victims at one time or another. Some called him the “spawn of the devil.” Most thought that he was much worse.
I was at my wits end with this holy terror for a half day. I was ready for the meeting and a chance to change him dramatically.
The afternoon teacher began with her report since she wanted to leave the meeting and get back to her class. As she talked about Arch’s ability to read and write, observe time, and perform math problems, I found myself becoming quite angry, but decided to hold my tongue. When she had left, I asked the parents. “What did you think of that report?”
Mr. Hawkins sipped on coffee while he reached for a raspberry pastry. “It was nice to hear he is doing so well.”
Mrs. Hawkins jumped in. “Yes, it was pleasant enough…” she stammered, “but I was hoping for something more.”
“Tell me more. You can talk freely here.” I passed her a strawberry pastry and poured her another cup of coffee.
"She talked as though Arch’ is a model of perfection and that he is doing well in her class. The Arch’ we see at home is simply horrible. If we don't begin a plan to change him, he'll be a candidate for the state prison. My other boy has had trouble with the law and there may be no hope for him. I don’t want that happening to Arch’.”
Mr. Hawkins said, “Yeah, It’s good that he is doing some read’n and write’n, but it will do him little good if he gets sent to prison.”
I peered out the window at the red oaks that had lost half their leaves to the fall frost. “I'm not going to sit here and tell you all the terrible things Arch’ has done in this school. I will say that if I did, that we would be here all afternoon. I will tell you that if he doesn't improve his behavior soon, there's going to be a lot of serious trouble for both him and you.”
“That’s the kind of down to earth talk we want to hear.”
“Good—let’s roll up our sleeves and see what we can do today for Arch’. I really believe that underneath all the problems we are seeing is a wonderful, loving individual trying to get out. I think it's a health problem.”
I felt that Arch’ was very likely not getting a proper diet. I told them that I had observed his eating habits and noted that Arch’ was exceptionally thin. He spent a lot of time sleeping in the morning and was peppier after a small lunch and that it was possible that he behaved better in the afternoon class as was reported earlier. We discovered that he had been eating no breakfast and little dinner.
“It’s not going to be an easy task as he is in the habit of not eating like he should. We must get him to eat nourishing food at every opportunity. We’ll need to see that we wean him off the sugar snacks that have brought him to this point.”
“Let’s try it—we have nothing to lose.”
We all agreed to give my plan a chance by making sure that Arch’ ate much more nourishing food. The parents agreed to make him eat a healthy breakfast. I would see that he had a pint of milk when he arrived at school and I would make sure he ate the school lunch. We all agreed to get him away from the sugary candy bars and junk food that he was presently eating. We worked hard with the program and it was no easy task getting Arch’ to eat properly. There were daily phone calls back and forth and notes passed between us regularly.
Three weeks later, Arch’ was a different person. His peers were leery of the new Arch’ and still expected him to pounce upon them whenever my back was turned.
Tiny and Big Jim approached me. “Mither Lancather, ARCH’ UP TO THOMTH’N REALLY BAD!”
“What's that?” I saw Arch’ holding a door open for Ben, a wheelchair student. “He looks OK to me.”
Big Jim was worried, he wrung his hands. Beads of perspiration poured down his face. “We all don’t know yet, but he hasn’t done noth’n bad YET today. We know that he’s saving up all the bad stuff. We all figure he’s gett’n ready for SOMETHING REALLY, REALLY, AWFUL!”
“Watch’m Mither Lancather!” Terror filled Tiny’s eyes. “He gonna do thumptin any minute now!”
“KA-BOOM!” Big Jim imitated an atomic bomb and pointed at Arch’.
The pair crept their way across the room, careful not to turn their backs on him.
I smiled. They were sure the roof was going to come crashing down at any moment. I knew otherwise.
Six weeks later, everybody loved Arch’. He'd help pass out materials, assist the helpless in wheelchairs, and perform any task I wanted, with an amiable, loving disposition. The past was quickly forgotten by all. He was voted unanimously by his peers to be the president of the student body.
One day, he looked at me with those gleaming white teeth, the broad smile, and the Afro. “I want to thank you, Mr. Lancaster.”
“You do? What for?”
“For gett’n me off the suga and onta the good food. I feel a lot betta. Thanks for caring ‘bout me.” He handed me an envelope.
“It’s a note from my mom.”
“Oh, oh—I hope I’m not in trouble.”
He flashed his teeth at me as he so often did. I carefully unfolded the note and read it to him.
“Dear Mr. Lancaster,
We want to thank you for all that you have done for Arch’ and our family. Our other boy is gone and Arch’ is all we have now. Your simple concern for him has changed our lives in ways that you can only imagine. We wished you had been a teacher of our other boy as we know now that it could have been much different for him. May you continue to help others like you have helped us.
May God bless you.
Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins”
I placed an arm across his shoulder. “If someone is ever bad to you, remember how you were. Tell yourself that something is wrong with them and they can't help themselves. Don't ever hate anyone. Instead, forgive them and then offer your hand.”
I placed the note on the bulletin board where I would always treasure it. “Everyone needs a helping hand at some point in their lives. Sometimes the simplest bit of caring can make all the difference.” I peered out the window. Snowflakes were gently drifting from the sky. “When good fortune shines upon you, use it to shine upon others. Can you remember that for the ole man?”
“I’ll remember, Mr. Lancaster. That is somethin’ I will never forget.”
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