I could see his frustration mounting. Each question he answered wrong resulted in another hard slash with his pencil across his scrap paper. The sighs and groans kept getting louder with each passing minute. He ran his hands through his long hair and pulled at the ends. The stress was mounting and I knew at any minute, he was going to crack. I asked if I could help and the answer was an emphatic, “I don’t get it. It’s no use.” I watched silently as he broke the lead of his pencil when he shoved it through his paper. He put his head down on his desk and I could tell by the stiffness of his back, he was trying hard not to cry.
Finally, I asked him to work the stressful math problem on the whiteboard. He pulled himself slowly, grudgingly, from his chair and dragged himself across the floor. He wrote the problem in almost illegible, minuscule numbers and mumbled how he thought the answer should be.
I went over to the board and helped walk him through the problem, making him think through each step as he did them. When the final, correct answer was produced, I could see the tears of frustration welling up in his eyes. As I tried to explain to him how he can do his work, he just needs to take his time, I could see his lip begin to quiver and his eyes fill with giant teardrops.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I wrapped my arms around him and held him while he cried out his frustration. I could feel him relax and he just let me hold him until the tears subsided.
In that moment, I flew back to my own childhood. I could see myself sitting at a small desk in my junior high classroom. Math never made sense to me. Even though I had one of the best math teachers known to man, I just could not grasp it. My mind had never worked things through logically. I remember sitting there, watching my classmates understand easily the concept of the day, and feeling the frustration of not comprehending mounting. Inevitably, I cried in math class. Every day. My poor math teacher. I never understood why I had endured those embarrassing, humiliating, frustrating moments.
Until today. As I held him while he cried, I knew exactly how he felt. I also knew what not to say and what he would need to hear and do when it was all over. I gave him a break from math and then when math was done, instead of making him sit through two more classes with just me, I let him go home. Homework-less. And all I could think the whole time was how thankful I am for all those horrible days in math class where nothing made sense.
Psalm 27:13 says, “Yet I am confident that I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.” I think I saw some of that goodness today. I certainly didn’t understand what was happening back when I was 12, but today – it all made so much sense. I can even say that I’m finally grateful for those horrible days in junior high because I can say with true confidence how much I understand what my little student is going through. I don’t have to fake it or pretend to care. In fact, I think I cared too much because I thought I was going to cry right along with him!
I guess… I’m just so glad I’m here, as his teacher, during these crucial years. I have seen the goodness of the Lord while I am still in the land of the living!