Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sharing "Charlie's Story" from my Book, Traveling a Rocky Road

The Story of Charlie
            There was a very important lesson that I learned about the importance of faith and giving when I first starting teaching.   I learned this lesson at a very small, rural school in the Midwest. There were a total of two-hundred and fifty students in the entire high school.  I selected this school because I wanted to know my students and their families, and so I could be close enough to take care of my mother whose health was failing.  The school was located in a fairly remote area with very little means for employment.  There was only one school in the county, and the county was considered to be one of the poorest in the state because most of the land was state and federal forestland. 
            I taught communication classes, and I began a Speech & Debate team.  I had one young man in a speech communication class that had the reputation of being the class clown.  At this time, I did not know this fact about him because I was new.  We will call him Charlie (not his real name) for the purpose of the story.  On the first day of class, the students were to take turns going up to the podium to introduce themselves.  When Charlie’s turn came, he walked to the podium, and before he could say a word, the entire class burst out laughing at him.  I knew they were making fun of him, but I had no idea why.  It really made me angry so I chastised the entire class.  Charlie had a wonderful deep vocal quality that would make a great radio announcer or a public speaker, and this is what I told the class. 
            After I had been teaching a few weeks, I learned of Charlie’s reputation.  However, I also learned that there was more to the story.  Charlie was a big boy, overweight and his father was dead.  In addition to that, his mother was an alcoholic.  Charlie was apparently drinking with his mother because he occasionally came to school with the smell of alcohol on him.  The other teachers had already decided that his future would be the town drunk.  They had no faith in the possibility that he would be anything else.  After about a month in my class, Charlie approached me after class to ask if I thought he could be on the Speech & Debate team.  I was thrilled, but I was also feeling a bit cautious after all things I had been told.  However, I said of course he could be on the team and that he would be good in original oratory.  I knew that was one of the categories I could help him put together, and he could memorize it for competition.  He joined the team; he competed and even brought home a few ribbons.
            Later that year in the spring, he came to me again.  This time Charlie asked if I thought he could ever go to college.  Even though I had a few doubts, I kept them to myself.  He was beginning to show change, have confidence in himself, and his classmates were beginning to see him differently as well. I told him that of course he could.  I told him he could do anything he wanted, as long as he wanted it badly enough and was willing to work hard to achieve it.  I, also, told him that if he really wanted to go to college, it would be very hard because he had goofed off so much.  I told him that he would have to take classes to prepare for the college level courses.  I wanted to make sure that he realized that the road he wanted take was not going to be easy.  Charlie worked hard the rest of the year.  I did not tell him, but I visited the community college that was in a town close by.  I went to speak with the Speech Communication Department Chair.  I told him about Charlie, and I did not leave anything out.   I even had the courage to ask if there was any way Charlie could be helped financially.  Because of my faith in Charlie, he was given a small departmental scholarship. 
            The fact that Charlie got that scholarship put me in the doghouse with most of the other teachers.  I received a lot of flack over it.  Charlie graduated, and began college.  He had to take many remedial English and Math classes to make up for his past behavior.  He was given a work-study position at the college, and he worked part-time at another job.  Charlie kept in touch with me to let me know how he was doing in his classes.  He took his first speech class that first semester, and at the end of it, he came to my home to show me that he had made an A in his first real college class.  He was so proud of it.
            Charlie did not give up on his quest for a college education, he earned his Associate of Arts degree, and then went on to a University where earned his Bachelor’s degree.  While he was working on his bachelor’s degree, he kept in touch to keep me up with his progress.  Once he achieved this degree, he went on to get his Master’s Degree.  His job today is in the field of social services that helps handicapped adults. 
            Charlie was one of my students some twenty-plus years ago.  He still calls at Christmas to let me know how he is doing, and to check on me. 
Lesson Learned:
            Charlie taught me never to judge a student by their past, their records, or what other teachers say about them.  He taught me that having faith and caring can make all the difference.  It brings to mind the last verse in Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”.  
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I did not make judgments based on others opinions, or past history.  I learned that had I not had faith in Charlie, the outcome more that likely would have been quite different. Charlie taught me that a little faith, hope and love goes a long way, and as a teacher our attitudes and behavior plays a very big role in the lives of our students.  All these years I have remembered Charlie, and what he taught me about a teacher’s influence on his or her students. 

         I wrote the following poem, after I had encountered several Charlies along my travels on life's road.  There are so many Charlie's along the way, and everyone that can be reached, everyone one that you can do something to make a difference in their lives is the most rewarding thing you can do.  So, if you run into a Charlie who is going through a really rough time, you never know what influences you can have on his or her life that makes all the difference.  Maybe, just maybe, they will take the road less traveled.
                            Little Boy Lost 

               Little boy lost with big brown eyes
                           all alone in a crowd staring back at me
               Reflecting memories clear and blurred
                           watching, waiting for someone to see
               The stains of heart-sick tears cause
                            by illusion’s shimmering veil torn
               And stripped by neglect and pain leaving
                            youth’s shining armor scarred and worn.

               There sits the little dark-haired boy,
                           with sorrowful eyes that taunt,
               Invading my sleep as they squeeze through
                           the bars of my mind to roam and haunt
              Like a twisted road that somehow strayed
                           to leave me awake with mocking tears
              Wondering how such harsh, callous wounds
                           on innocence and youth can be made.

              How can I reach this little boy lost
                          with such bitter wisdom, so full of gall,
              From forgotten worth by the wraith of life
                          fighting a battle to survive it all, or ease
             The suffering from many a remembered blow
                         giving relief from the long dull pain
              So that the bright brave banners of youth
                         may fly unfurled and true again.

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  1. That was a beautiful story really made me think about some of the people in my life!

  2. Very beautiful....will definitely remember when I become a teacher!


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