Thankful for things you can’t fix?

I am thankful for things that I cannot fix. My kid raises his eyebrows at me. He’s trying to finish his “thankful for” homework list and  I am not cooperating. “That makes no sense, Mom!” He starts to write down the words and then erases them. “Why would you be thankful for something that you can’t do?” I know. I used to think that way too. And then I met Cedric.

As a 22-year-old student teacher, I was certain God was going to use me to fix Cedric. The answers he needed were on page 225 of my “Managing Student Behavior Book”. I had written a ten-page paper on those behavior modifications. And gotten an A+. Cedric, however,  was unaware that I was such an expert.

The year was 1996 ( yes, we had cars back then) and I was a student teacher at a middle school about 45 mins from the University of Georgia where I attended college. I was part of a program that placed student teachers in classrooms for an entire school year. We worked in the school during the day and took classes at night. Theories we wrote and discussed in the quiet of our lecture halls played out in the real-life chaos of next day classrooms.

And that is how I met Cedric. 5th period Language Arts and 2nd-period Reading.

“Is your name really Miss Hogg?” he hollered from under the table where he was hiding as I approached the front of the room on the first day of school. (my maiden name is Hogg like Vogue, but there aren’t many 8th graders who can resist pronouncing it like it looks. Marriage was a blessing for many reasons). I attempted to correct his pronunciation and then he and I sparred for control of the classroom for the next 45 minutes.

This went on for weeks which turned into months. I tried every trick in every book I had ever read. I held extensive meetings with lots of experts, wrote detailed plans and did everything my Mentor Teacher told me. I was stern and confident and refused to take any lip from him. Yet every day, he was there in the middle of every lesson, goofing off, hanging upside down on his desk, throwing paper balls at other classmates, screaming out in the middle of my directions and demanding my attention.

I began to re-think my career choice.

“You are not going to be able to fix him, Leigh,” the principal of that middle school told me. He stood from his seat in the back of my classroom having just witnessed the debacle of 5th period. Reverend James was a formidable principal who also pastored the local church. A simple, “Do you need to go see the Reverend?” was enough to straighten up nearly every kid in that whole school.

But not Cedric.

The Reverend shared a few of the terrible details of Cedric’s home life and then he said, “We’re doing everything we can to help him. But, The Lord doesn’t call us to fix people or circumstances. He simply calls us to love them. Put away your books, Leigh and just love that kid.”

I can still picture the way the Reverend’s eyes danced as he spoke.

So the next day I began to try and love a kid who drove me nuts. And I tried the next day and the next day and the next.  It was hard, unrewarding and relentless. The results were almost nonexistent. Many afternoons I collapsed in the Reverend’s office in tears. I hated failure.

And every day he said the same thing, “We love because he first loved us. This is what it looks like, girl. Just go love him some more tomorrow.”

Now, Cedric did not become an outstanding all-around student that year. His home life did not improve. He rarely did his homework and was prone to yell out in the middle of class right up until the bell dismissed us for summer.

But. He did eventually cede control of the classroom to a know-it-all student teacher who thought present participles were worth his attention for 45 mins.

And on the very last day of school that year, after I told him for the 925th time that no, he could not stand on the top of the desks, he jumped right down in front of me and declared, “You alright Ms. Hogg that rhymes with frog. You alright. You the only teacher I ever got to laugh at my jokes.” And then he gave me a hug.

No quantitative results. No methodology papers to be written. No behavior checklists that claimed success. But all these 20 years later,  I can still close my eyes and see that kid’s grin.

I wasn’t able to fix him.  And for that I am thankful.

We love because he first loved us“(1John 4:19).  And sometimes? We just laugh at the jokes. Who knows what a difference it might make.

One Comment on “Thankful for things you can’t fix?

  1. I will share your excellent story with our preschool teachers who at one time or another have had a Cedric in their classrooms. It’s a good reminder for us all and thank you for writing it for us. He was lucky to be in 5th period Language Arts & 2nd period reading with you!

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