We all carry around some kid in our heart. That kid you wonder if you did enough for him. That kid that changed you as a teacher. That kid that you always will wonder how they are doing. For me, that kid is Albert. In 2009, I was a reading specialist, responsible for helping 108 students that had never passed the state test before.
I had just come from teaching two years at a middle school in Georgia. They say "everything is bigger in Texas” and that is indeed true. The students were not just taller than the kids I had taught in the past, but they were taller than me. I was slightly intimidated. And then I met Albert.
After only 3 days of class, I was convinced that only one of us would survive the school year. It was going to be me or him. Albert talked non-stop. He was so happy and social, but he was happy and social all the time. Albert had a question for everyone: “How’s your cousin’s baby?” “Where do you want to eat lunch?” “Did you see my new shoes?” “What do you think of the math homework?”
He honestly cared about everyone and everything around him. I would redirect Albert and he would get back on track with the lesson, but I couldn’t move too fast or too slow or I would get questioned. I learned quickly which questions were safe to answer and which ones to ignore. Albert wasn’t trying to stall me from teaching, he was just curious about everything. “Why do you wear high heels?” “Do you eat sandwiches or leftovers for lunch?” “Where do teachers learn to be a teacher?" "How many books do you think that you have read?”
At the beginning of the school year, he tried to trick me a few times. I was presented with scenarios that were never covered in any college class I had ever taken. Scenarios I can't describe here in case some of my elementary students read this post. But luckily, I handled the situations correctly. Eventually I passed enough of Albert's tests or finally answered enough questions correctly.
We had a great year together, full of many jokes and pranks, and Albert surprised me on my birthday that year with a cake for my birthday. He went on the pass the state test, and when a new high school was finished, he transferred schools at the end of his freshman year.
For the next three years, I mentored Albert at his new school, checking his grades and helping him get caught up when he was behind. I visited him, but also made sure to got to class on time. I made sure he maintained the grades needed to play soccer, staying after school to help him write a speech for a communications class. I can’t say that I had come to believe in this kid; I had believed in him since I met him. Maybe my transfer to his new high school was partly so I could more easily keep track of him.
I had an interview with my professional organization scheduled while I was working one day at Albert’s new school and the story of how I kept in touch with this student over the years really appealed to the interviewer. We looked up Albert’s schedule and pulled him out of class. When I asked Albert if he would mind answering some questions on video, he readily agreed. The interviewer started off with some soft questions to relax my boy. And then the hard question came, “Can you tell me what a difference Mrs. Stoebe has made in your life?”
Albert was all of a sudden a freshman again. He knew how to ask question, but he quite did not know how to answer. He stalled and as I looked into his eyes, I knew that he was grateful for many things. He was grateful I did not call home or write a referral about the times he talked too much or the pranks he pulled. I saw that he knew I had always believed in him, and that I had never doubted his ability to make it to graduation day. No answer, no matter how well scripted could have ever said thank you to me; all the thanks in the world were in the look in Albert’s eyes.
“You know, Albert, I think I am going to answer this question. I want to answer with telling the world the difference that Albert has made in my life.” The interviewer took it from there and my diversion tactics worked. We wrapped up the interview and I hugged Albert, sending him back off to Communications (Yes, you really have to go back now!”). I held myself together until everyone was gone and then I cried in the bathroom because sometimes even I run out of words.
I had the joy of seeing Albert graduate. When his son was born, I got a photo and I looked into the happy eyes of a little boy and prayed for the high school teacher who would have him for freshman English. I prayed that she would be patient and be strong enough to carry this little boy around in her heart, just as I had carried his father there.
The article with Albert is here.