In his book As Iron Sharpens Iron, a great book on the power of mentoring, author Howard Hendricks tells this story of his troubled home background:
“By the fifth grade, I was bearing all the fruit of a kid who feels insecure, unloved, and pretty angry at life. In other words, I was tearing the place apart. However, my teacher Miss Simon apparently thought that I was blind to this problem, because she regularly reminded me, ‘Howard, you are the worst behaved child in this school!’
So tell me something I don’t already know! I thought to myself, as I proceeded to live up (or down) to her opinion of me.
One time I got so out of hand that she physically grabbed me, shoved me into my desk, tied me to my seat with a rope, and wrapped tape around my mouth. ‘Now you will sit still and be quiet!’ she announced triumphantly. So what else could I do?
Needless to say, the fifth grade was probably the worst year of my life. Finally I was graduated – for obvious reasons. But I left with Miss Simon’s words ringing in my ears: ‘Howard, you are the worst behaved child in this school!’
You can imagine, then, my expectations upon entering the sixth grade, where my teacher was Miss Noé. The first day of class she went down the roll, and it wasn’t long before she came to my name. ‘Howard Hendricks,’ she called out, glancing from her list to where I was sitting with my arms folded, just waiting to go into action. She looked me over for a moment, and said, ‘I’ve heard a lot about you.’ Then she smiled and added, ‘But I don’t believe a word of it!”
I tell you, that moment was a fundamental turning point, not only in my education, but in my life. Suddenly, unexpectedly, someone believed in me. For the first time in my life, someone saw potential in me. Miss Noé put me on special assignments. She gave me little jobs to do. She invited me to come in after school to work on my reading and arithmetic. She challenged me with higher standards.
I had a hard time letting her down. In fact, one time I got so involved in one of her homework assignments that I stayed up until 1:30 in the morning working on it! Eventually my father came down the hall and said, ‘What’s the matter, son, are you sick?’
‘No, I’m doing my homework,’ I replied.
He kind of blinked and rubbed his eyes, not quite sure whether he was awake. He’d never heard me say anything like that before. Finally he shook his head and said, ‘You’re sick!’
What made the difference between fifth grade and sixth? The fact that someone was willing to give me a chance. Someone was willing to believe in me while challenging me with higher expectations. That was risky, because there was no guarantee that I would honor Miss Noé’s trust.”
Do you have any experience with you own little Howard?