I was the last child in Kindergarten to learn to tie his shoes. I was almost about to fail Kindergarten because of it. I had all of my “S’s” (for satisfactory) except for that one. Mrs. Law was strict and she would toe the line, shoes on OR off, on this matter. I wish it wasn’t true, but it is.

I almost got paddled in first grade because I wrote left-handed. Mrs. Cook always seemed to get heated at the slightest thing and when she found out I wrote left-handed, she threatened to paddle me. I wish it wasn’t true, but it is.

In second grade, I couldn’t spell “when.” It was one of those words that I could never get right. And Mrs. Day (seems like all of my elementary teachers had simple last names) almost spanked me as well, for talking to a boy about it in the seat next to me. She thought I was being silly that I couldn’t spell “when.” But I couldn't. I wish it wasn’t true, but it is.

In third grade, Louise and I completed our multiplication tables faster than anyone so we got to move on to division problems. In fourth grade, Mrs. Jung (my all-time favorite teacher) gave me extra work because I was bored. In fifth grade, I was tracked into a fast special class (Louise was in it as well) while my friend Jack wasn’t. He came from a single mom’s home and didn’t dress as nice, though my dad’s insistence on me wearing polyester green pants as part of my pant “rotation” wasn’t exactly a fashion statement. The following year I bought a light blue leisure suit, which didn’t help my life either. I wish it wasn’t true, but it is.

My senior year in high school, I went back to that school to visit and met Jack. He looked a lot different, impressive really, and I was taken with his kindness, intellect, and conversation skills. I remember listening to him and thinking that he too should have been tracked into the advanced class in 5th grade. He was really smart and would’ve thrived in it. But, at age 10 he was labeled and sorted, mostly because of his family life. I wish it wasn’t true, but it is.

He's since disappeared and I’ve lost track of how he's doing now.

Patience is a teaching virtue. So is openness to new ideas. At some point you’ll have a student or person who is unconventional. It may not be as simple as writing left-handed while doing everything else right-handed. His name may be “Nick” even. Nick (or someone just like him) may press every boundary you set up, may find a short-cut way to produce the same results you want, or he/she may pose questions about things other students have never done in the past. That’s how knowledge is discovered and built.

That's how they put the puzzle pieces of life together and Jack and friends like him may just need more time. It takes time to put some puzzles together. Or a caring adult to nurture them like a parent as they work on life's puzzles. He/she may need you.

In fact, all of the people you lead or teach need you.

More than your program. Because people matter more than your program.

And they require patience. Just like you and I did … and do.

Photo by marco_44