I met Mathias on a college campus where he was studying criminology. He told me that he had a difficult home life as a child; so his teachers became important role models. Mr. Byron, his fifth grade teacher made a significant impact on his life.
As a kid, I had a bad temper and a short fuse. I often felt angry and frustrated. I grew up in a home with substance abuse, and I never knew what to expect. There was constant yelling and fighting. School was my safe place, even though I often got in trouble. In most classes, when I pushed books off the desk or shoved another kid, I would just get sent to the office or sent home. That changed in Mr. Byron’s fifth grade class. When I got angry, he would quietly tell me to go get a drink of water then come back and talk to him. He asked me questions and listened in a way that showed he really cared. He had a way of breaking through my anger and calming me down.
On one particular day, I got frustrated with my group and broke another student’s pencil. Instead of his typical response, Mr. Byron lost patience with me. He said, “What is going on with you? You have to stop doing this! What do you think is going to happen when you get to middle school?” Instead of talking, he just asked me to move to a seat in the back of the room. I felt ashamed and rejected even though I knew I deserved it. I quietly got on the bus after school without my usual high five and pep talk from Mr. Byron.
I was surprised to see Mr. Byron standing on the bus ramp when I got off the bus the next morning. He asked if he could join me for breakfast. As we sat together in the cafeteria, he explained, “I owe you an apology. I am really sorry that I let you down yesterday. I was impatient and didn’t listen to you, and that wasn’t right.” I was shocked. I told Mr. Byron that no adult had ever apologized to me before. He looked at me for a minute, and then he said, “I think you are probably owed many apologies.” We both knew that was true. I offered him a slice of my orange, and he gave me a pat on the back. I was always being asked to apologize to others, but being on the receiving end of a sincere apology was a changing moment in my life. We agreed that I would replace my classmate’s pencil and offer a sincere apology of my own.
Most of the stories I share about teacher impact show teachers at our best, doing the right thing at the right time. But we are all human, and we all lose patience at times. Mathias’ story taught me that our mistakes can be the foundation for our most impactful lessons. Was there a teacher who modeled compassion for you? Share in the comments below.
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