I remember in my first year of teaching, I had this student named Dave who rarely said a word and never turned in work. He just sat quietly by himself the first part of his freshmen year of high school. I knew there had to be more to the story, but nothing I did made Dave want to let me in on his life. One day I was talking to another teacher about how frustrated I was trying to connect with Dave, and she told me, "Oh Trevor, don't stress about it, that kid is too far gone."
"He's too far gone."
Unfortunately, this was not the last time someone would say this exact line to me. Fortunately, I did not believe them.
About halfway through the year, we did a project in my class where Dave was given a chance to paint. And it turns out, in the broken home Dave grew up in, as well as the many different foster homes he spent time in, his favorite way to escape the pain and abuse was to draw. When I gave him a paintbrush to use for an English project, his world changed. A whole new side of him showed up, and he came alive in school for the first time.
And with Dave's new engagement in my class came a new attitude and outlook on the world. He started talking and even sharing about his life with me. When the project was over and Dave had to put away the paintbrush, the engagement was still there. It even carried over into other classes, and 5 years later- Dave is now in college defying all odds.
Some kids are really difficult, and at times, positive change seems hopeless. But time and again I see there is never a point at which a kid can't be reached. It's true, you cannot save every kid.
But you can love every one of them. You can make sure they all feel safe and cared for. You can call every student by their name when you shake their hands or give them high fives. And you can give every kid opportunities to create and use their talents.
And more often than not, when you do these things, lives change.