“Everybody’s life looks better when you’re standing outside it, looking in, but that’s never how it really is. We all got good things and bad things…” –Torey Hayden, Special education teacher and author
Homework Club exuded all the trappings of success. So it appeared on the surface. Fifteen students finished their assigned work before going home. Time ticked by quickly. The whole class rejoiced in that. So, why were the Homework Club members boring holes into me with their eyes?
What could have gone wrong?
One more after-school responsibility had certainly not been my idea. Homework Club had long been excluded from my list of the committees worth volunteering my time and effort. At three o’clock, all energy drained from my body, so even extra pay could not entice me to tutor fifteen low-achieving students for an hour and a half. Only the assistant principal, Ms. Graham, had the clout to overturn my objections.
“Cleo. We need a teacher for the Wednesday afternoon Homework Club. The person who worked that assignment is teaching homebound students. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday are covered. Can I count on you for Wednesday?” Ms. Graham smiled charmingly while she penciled my name onto the schedule.
We breezed through the first session. The fourth grade students filed into my room. I knew many by reputation, either as non-readers or behavior problems. Using all the strategies gained by years of special education, I soon had each pupil working on individualized assignments. Knowing that an energy boost helps, I passed out chocolate covered graham crackers.
The early December snow floated from the cray clouds, covering the world in silent white drifts. Cozy inside, I tiptoed from desk to desk, trying an old technique in auditory spelling with one student, pairing others to teach alternate paragraphs from the same passage, getting a times table sheet for computation to a math whiz wannabee.
“Can we stay overnight?” Travis asked, nodding to the large flakes floating by the window.
“Yeah. We could order pizza,” piped in Mike.
“We could put our coats on the floor to sleep,” Katie added.
“I’ve got to get home to make supper for Mr. Lampos.” My eyes widened in alarm.
Disappointed moans resounded from desk to desk.
Just before the time to put on coats, boots and mittens, I told everyone to listen to our “goodbye song,” a tape that my regular class knew as the cue to get ready for the weekend. It’s an old rendition of “What A Wonderful World”. In an even paced rhythm, Louis Armstrong’s voice filled the room. “I see skies of blue..and I say to myself, what a wonderful world.” I lip-synched and motioned the words with wide sweeps of my arms. “Ohhhh, yyyeahhh!”
The music faded.
I watched as the Homework Club donned their winter wraps in silence, then queued up in a sloppy line. Staring eyes and slack mouths made me ask, “What? Hey, guys, weren’t you just listening? It’s a wonderful world. How about some smiles?”
Preppy, well-dressed Thad cocked his head. “It’s not a wondaerful world, Mrs. Lampos. My stepfather hates me. I don’t like to go home.” I recalled seeing Thad and a few walkers standing by the front entrance on frigid mornings.
“I don’t think it’s such a wonderful world, either,” snapped Travis whose father still served a prison term for gang-related offenses.
Grunts of confirmation surrounded me. Angry feelings vented through words. “It’s a lousy world.” “Life’s no fun.”
Stepping back into my childhood, memories of wanting to stay in school flooded my mind. Cautiously, I shared them with the Club.
“Believe it or not, I know how you feel. My stepfather was a mean alcoholic. There was a lot of fighting at my home. We were poor and sometimes hungry. School was safer and nicer than home.”
Shock crossed their faces as I spoke.
“But I never let the bad things get me down. Even at your age, I looked around and tried to find the good things in life. That’s why I like Louis Armstrong’s song. Wonderful things are free, like the sky, babies smiling, the snow wrapping us up today in a hug.” I paused. “Your assignment for next Wednesday is to come to Homework Club with five wonderful things in your life. Can we do this?”
Upturned lips and nodding heads said it all. Several boys hugged me on the way to the bus. Surely God has made something very special for this midweek group, I reflected. Let it be His wonderful love flowing through me to these needy hearts.
I wouldn’t miss Wednesday Homework Club for all the chocolate in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” – Mother Teresa
Finding the potential in problematic students is challenging regardless of the setting: public school, private school, church clubs, youth groups or Sunday school. Author Cleo Lampos reminds the reader on each page that every teacher possesses the power to shape a child’s future.
Available on Amazon.com in e-book or paperback.
The Teachers of Diamond Projects School Series that uses the 3 R’s in the novel: reality, reflection and romance. Each novel is a stand-alone that takes the reader into the classroom of an urban teacher who struggles with professional, personal and spiritual challenges. Enjoy a peek into Chicago’s educational system from a veteran teacher.
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Meme photo: https://pixabay.com/en/blackboard-boys-chalkboard-children-1299841/