Teaching is hard work, and often requires relentless patience and care for not only the student, but also the child. Sean Gleason has this Perspective.

My students know which words are unacceptable in my classroom. Not your usual four-letter words, the words I don’t excuse are those born of violent intolerance.

So when one of my students used a particularly oppressive word, only to repeat it instead of correcting it, he knew what he was doing. Unfortunately, on that day I was out of emotional resilience, and my own traumas were triggered.

As a teacher, I know not to take these behaviors personally. Student outbursts are rarely about us and often about the place they’ve had to inhabit within a system that labels and disregards them.

My relationship with this student see-sawed between affection and tension. He was full of jokes that disregarded the way others felt. Each time we’d butt heads, though, I’d find him for a conversation, we’d apologize, and the cycle would restart.

Fundamental to my work is the practice of seeing humanity in all behaviors. In this student’s, I saw vulnerability. He used humor the way a magician uses sleight of hand – to misdirect the audience from what’s really happening.

The night he graduated, I cried in my bedroom, scared of what might happen when hallway reconciliations are no longer an option. A month later, he was arrested, convicted as an adult, and sentenced to the rest of his adolescence in a cage.

In a letter, he described the surprise he felt the first time I visited. “Not even my own dad has come to see me,” he wrote. He recognized, in me, an unwillingness to give up on him.

Memories of our clashes have since faded. What really mattered was my incessant caring. Whether we’re educators, mentors, or family, what’s most important is that we believe in showing young people love even when we don’t feel loved back.

Earlier this week, I received another letter from him. This time, though, it didn’t open with “Dear Mr. Sean.” It began, “Dear Uncle Sean.”

With a Perspective, I’m Sean Gleason.

Sean Gleason is an educator who works and lives in Oakland.

Incessant Caring 7 December,2017Amanda Font

  • Natalie Krauss Bivas

    I am a teacher, home sick today, and I was moved to tears by Sean Gleeson’s piece. Teaching DOES require relentless patience, caring, affection…deep wells of all of them. That’s why I’m not at school today. I am too tired from being sick to pull up all of those feelings to serve my kids. I am both a reading and ESL specialist. Some of my students, struggling with reading, have difficult behaviors. Some newcomers from abroad who cannot communicate in English, act out their frustration. I continue to be moved by how much my colleagues care about our students and their future as Mr. Gleeson does, and love their students regardless of behavior. Lay people have no idea. I am at the end of my career, and I consider myself blessed to have known all my students and their families for almost thirty years, students from all over the world. I have learned to see the humanity, as Mr. Gleeson says, in all of them. This has been a treasured gift that I wish I could share with those who make our policy.

  • Donna Frost

    Like Natalie, I found myself in tears as I listened to Sean’s story. So much so that I had to pull over and stop my car so as to not let this moment pass by too quickly. I am not a teacher, but routinely work with the teens and preteens at my sons’ schools and at our church. It is challenging at times, but such a blessing. Sean’s experience resonates with me because of the love and compassion we feel for these kids. It’s an honor and a privilege to be accepted into their hearts, especially when trust does not come easy for them. I’ve experienced this personally as a troubled teen and in the lives of my own children in the wake of dealing with tragedy. It truly takes a village to raise a child, and I am forever grateful for the teachers (and other caring adults) out there who open their arms and hearts to selflessly, consistently show them that love makes a difference. We don’t always get to see the harvest of our labors, but it DOES make a difference! “So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up.-Galatians 6:9”. To our teachers out there, may you continue to have the strength and wisdom it takes to guide the lives you have been blessed with, and may you never give up. You are making a difference and our kids need you! Our prayers and thoughts are with you as you go out there and make this world a better place, one life at a time:)

  • Chiang XiaoMi

    1970?

  • Long

    I appreciate teachers like Sean who made extra efforts to provide knowledge and care to their students. many years ago, my speech-delayed son had one teacher like him in his elementary school. We worked daily together to help my son to overcome his speech delay while the speech specialist assigned by the school did nothing.

    But, no matter how many teachers are committed and passionate like Sean, teachers can not replace parents.

    When a kid is born to irresponsible parents, their lives are doomed. Whether there hopes for them depends on their own lucks and wills. They are lucky to encounter people like Sean. But, if they don’t have their own wills, it is still in vein.

  • Cyrus Esteban

    Listening to NPR on my way to work as a Middle School teacher in SF. Thank you for your thoughtful meaningful eloquently articulated perspective.

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