I felt like most of my energy was being sapped by Nechami and wondered if it was fair to the rest of the girls
he year was over — finally. It had been the biggest challenge of my four-year teaching career and I was not sorry that it had come to an end. Finals had been graded, report cards written, and I was ready to spend the next couple of weeks in Florida, chilling on the beach with friends and regaining my energy.
The year had actually started on a really positive note. I taught Chumash and dikduk to the ninth and tenth grade classes and everything had been progressing perfectly until Nechami joined the school after Succos. I didn’t know why she had switched to a new school so late in the year — the principal didn’t offer much information. What I soon learned was that all it takes is one rotten apple to ruin the barrel. Powerful, charismatic, and badly hurting, Nechami quickly became a leader. Her negative attitude towards learning and authority quickly spread, and rebellious attitudes and difficult behavior soon became the norm among her classmates.
I didn’t know exactly what was going on in her life, but I didn’t think it was fair that her problems at home became my problem in the classroom. I consulted experienced teachers, professionals, anyone I thought who could help. I implemented the advice I received and tried different strategies. Some worked in the very short term, but nothing made a real difference. For every one step forward, we took two giant steps backwards. Sometimes I wondered why I bothered, why I didn’t just quit teaching. Then I would remind myself that it was only one class I was having difficulty with; the other classes were progressing successfully and I had established a nice rapport with my students. The days Nechami were absent, teaching her class was a walk in the park, and I found myself wishing that she would abstain from coming more often or move back to her original school.
These thoughts made me feel guilty. Teaching isn’t supposed to be personal and it really disturbed me that I was beginning to hate Nechami for making my life so excruciatingly difficult. So, I turned to one of the only tools left in my arsenal: tefillah. Every morning I would offer up a short tefillah that the day should be a good day for Nechami and that I would have the strength and know-how to help her. I also made it a point to catch her doing something good, however small it was, and complimenting her for it. I gave her special responsibilities; sometimes she did them, sometimes I was left cleaning up the mess from tasks she abandoned. I felt like most of my energy was being sapped by Nechami and wondered if it was fair to the rest of the girls; I wondered if anything was fair anymore.
(Excerpted from Teen Pages, Issue 769)
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