I don’t remember Paul well from the first day that he was one of my second graders. To be honest, the children who made quick impressions were usually the ones who ended up at the top or bottom of the class. That left the majority of the children in the middle, somewhat invisible group. Like all teachers, I had to be careful at the beginning and throughout the year to not ignore the substantive middle group containing the majority of the students.

Paul was an overweight, insecure, shy boy without a lot of confidence. He was academically behind many of his peers. But, he was also pleasant, and even jovial in spite of his challenges with his peer group and learning. When Paul felt safe, he had a great work ethic. He enjoyed learning once he figured out he could.

When I look back on my years of teaching second graders, Paul is one of my favorite kids to reflect upon. I watched him transition from believing he was a nobody with nothing to a somebody with present value and a bright future. That was a huge victory.

Paul needed to be surrounded by and supported by hope. Clear and specific teaching. Optimism. Practical help. Joy. High and realistic expectations. Encouragement. Honesty. Love.

Just like every kid.

Paul’s parents were surprised to see his progress. I remember his mom volunteering in the classroom and sometimes staying around to talk about how she thought he was different from the other kids. I loved it when by the end of the year she saw that he had more in common with his positive peers then she thought.

Many years later I found out that Paul had continued to do really well. In fact when he was a high school student, he spent a year in Germany as an exchange student. He later graduated from Purdue University with a pharmacy degree.

If you would have asked me the first month of the school year if I felt Paul was a budding pharmacist I imagine I would’ve said “no.” By the end of the year I might have said “yes.”

It often doesn’t take as much to help kids be successful as we think it does. It’s often attitude changes kids need, not necessarily lots of work.

Paul needed to be surrounded by hope and optimism so he’d have enough success to find his own hope and optimism. I believed in him so he could believe in himself. There might be little that’s more important.

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I also blogged about Paul and his parents here.