When I said the class could work in groups a smile stretched across his face. He looked as if I had just told him we were taking a trip to Universal.  He grabbed his backpack and darted over to two other boys.

Twenty minutes later he stormed back to his seat. When I asked him what was wrong tears filled his eyes. “Apparently, they don’t want to work with me.”

I learned through many years of subbing for middle school that sometimes it’s best to let students work things out for themselves before getting involved. For instance, when one student makes fart noises over and over another will usually speak up and ask them to stop without me having to say a word.

However, in this case, I couldn’t stay quiet. I sat down next to the two boys. I asked if they’d ever felt left out. I asked how it made them feel? I said I was sorry that it had happened to them. I explained that whether intentional or unintentional they had hurt another classmate and that our job as teachers and students is to lift one another up. They looked at me with wide eyes. I honestly didn’t know if I was getting through to them or if I was another adult teaching a lesson. I walked away to let them sort it out. The three resumed working together.

Then, right before the bell rang one of the boys I spoke to about including others made a trip across the classroom to where I was standing to show me his work. I congratulated him on a job well done. Perhaps he did care. Perhaps he was listening.

Kindness matters especially in a small classroom with twenty-two teens. There may not be a grade or a final on the skill at the end of the year, but the students who master it will achieve the most success.

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