Over the two decades Sheila had taught school, she never tired of the classroom. Each night she faced stacks of student papers but she didn’t mind because she felt every student deserved her best. But one incorrigible teen was determined to make her life miserable.
With Craig, each day was a trial. Sheila sensed there was more to him than his failing grades. As the tardy bell rang she could expect Craig and his surly attitude to arrive. Discipline never worked because it was an excuse to leave class. Praising his effort, when he showed any, was met with a mocking smile and a flippant response. Sheila couldn’t seem to reach inside his stubborn resolve to hate school.
Facing the prospect of flunking Craig for the second year in a row, she asked him to stay after class. She’d tried to offer assistance throughout the months, but Craig always shrugged it off. Now she watched him take the news of failure with total nonchalance.
Leaning back in his chair, Craig gave his usual mocking smile. He rose and walked out of the room. He might not show it, but she knew he had to feel the despair. The thing about despair is that it’s contagious. Sheila laid her head down on her desk. She’d had difficult students before. But something about Craig tugged at her. She began to cry. At first the tears were for Craig, but then she cried for all the other Craigs who walked out of school defeated. Sheila felt the same defeat.
She hadn’t heard Craig come back into the room. He’d noticed her crying and he approached respectfully. Gently placing his hand on her shoulder he asked softly if she was crying because of him. Sheila looked up and saw something she had never seen in Craig before—thoughtfulness.
Craig hadn't known anyone cared that much about him. But it was just enough “care” for him to begin caring too. Craig found a new place to go after school. Sheila’s classroom became a study hall and a sanctuary from the life Craig hoped to leave behind.
And in an amazing failure to success story, Craig eventually graduated with honors and now attends college. His goal? For now, he hopes to return to the classroom and be the teacher who can turn someone’s life around.
While despair is indeed contagious, Craig and Sheila learned that hope is also contagious. And once hope finds its way to willingness, success is just up ahead. Imagine what could happen if we each could change one person's life. Maybe that’s what we need in our homes, our schools, and most definitely our nation...contagious hope. The kind of hope that leads to real change.