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It's not everyday you have an experience that shows you what kind of an influence you have on your students, but it's really nice to have one once in a while. I received a phone call Saturday, July 2nd from my school secretary passing along horrible news that one of my previous students had just been attacked by three large dogs and had almost died. That information was bad enough to hear, but it was even worse when I heard which student was attacked.
This student (we'll call him Fred to make the story easier to tell and to also keep the innocence of the child in question intact) was a special student who was extremely low in reading skills and because of that, was very low in a number of other scholastic areas as well. To make things worse, he was also receiving speech services to try and correct a physical speech impediment that would need surgery to correct. Fred struggled all year long, yet his parents and the special education (SPED) department of my school kept telling me he was making HUGE improvements and was growing so much both academically and socially. They tried to say I was the reason, but I know that wasn't the whole truth, this young man was just growing up and I happened to have him at the right time in his life to help make a positive change.
As the year progressed, Fred was improving and growing at a rapid rate until he received word he would have to miss the last 8-10 weeks to recover from the much needed surgery to correct his speech impediment. He was going to have to be in a "halo" and wouldn't be allowed to attend school at all. We were devastated! Here we had worked so hard and he was making such great strides to improve academically and now he was going to miss the last two months of school. I wasn't going to let this stop his growth so I worked with the SPED teacher to re-arrange her schedule in order to allow Fred to attend her lessons at least so he wouldn't totally fall backwards. The student would come to the school an hour or so after school had started and after things had calmed down and receive very small group or even one-on-one time with the SPED teacher and her aide all while trying frantically to help him from falling too far behind. I would arrange to stay after school to work with him on special projects the rest of the class was completing so he wouldn't feel left out, and yet, I didn't know if my extra effort was helping.
Fast forward 8 weeks to the end of school and Fred was able to do most everything the rest of the class did, on his own time frame. He was even able to get through the required End of Level testing (not that I really cared except it was required) with very little problem. It appeared as though Fred had survived 4th grade, not finishing on level, but having improved from where he had started. Success! I visited Fred at his home to drop off his end of the year packet of "stuff" I had collected throughout the year and check on his recovery. All was looking good and it appeared as though he wouldn't have to miss any school at the start of the next school year.
Then came that phone call. Fred had been attacked by three large dogs and was in the hospital. The doctors weren't sure how bad the situation was and at one point they thought he might not even make it. Why did I get a phone call from my secretary telling me all this horrible information? I was on vacation with my family at the opposite end of the state and suddenly I was no longer with them mentally, but back home with my former student. I received a phone call because as Fred was being taken into surgery, his Mom asked him if he wanted anything for when he came out. What did Fred want, "Call Mr. Larson."
And I didn't receive just one phone call, I actually received three different calls from three different people. The first was from my school secretary, the second from my Vice Principal and the third from my Mom. I don't know who called my Mom, but they were so insistent on finding Mr. Larson that they cold called my parent's house looking for me.
It's amazing how three little words can cause such a stirring of emotions. I am thankful for those three words because they showed me that I had made a difference in at least one of my former students. Those three words sent my weekend into an uproar as I frantically found a way to get home to visit my student as soon as possible. I didn't get to the hospital before he got out of surgery, partially because I didn't find out about the events until he was already in recovery, but I was able to get to see him within 24 hours of those phone calls. I left my wife and daughter with my in-laws and I drove home to visit a young boy who showed me I am making a positive change in the world.
I don't tell this story to make myself seem like a wonderful teacher or to make myself appear great. I tell this story because I have had moments where I wondered if I made the right decision to become a teacher and this experience has shown me that I did. No matter how difficult teaching can be, there will always be three words that will help me to stick it out and push to get better, "Call Mr. Larson."
UPDATE: Fred has been released from the hospital and should recover enough to come back to school at the first of the year. Probably not the first week, but hopefully within the first couple of weeks. His injuries were pretty severe, but he should recover. Also, his face did not receive any major injuries, a miracle if ever one occurred.