Sam’s Story and the Substitute at School
I worked in the elementary school system in my county as a substitute teacher for eight years. I enjoyed the work, and I was told I was good at it. The paraprofessionals said they like it when I was their substitute because they could do their job because I did mine; sometimes they would ask especially for me. This was a great compliment to me. I enjoyed working in the school system.
One day, I was substituting at one of the elementary schools in a section of town that had the middle class as well as poor families attending. I remember it very vividly because it brought back memories of a young boy I once knew. I was the substitute for a second-grade class. I was sitting at the teacher’s desk going over the itinerary she left for me to follow that day. I had a para-pro in the class and she was busy taking attendance and doing the lunch count for the day.
The para-pro (we will call her Miss Para-pro) called a little boy named Topher up to her desk. He had on what looked like hand-me-down clothing. His pants were too short and his shoes looked almost worn out. His face looked dirty and his hair was mussed. He was a cute and quiet young boy, he had blond hair and big blue, twinkling eyes. Miss Para-pro asked him where his lunch was and if he had the writing tablet and pencil she had told him he needed for class. Topher just hung his head and shook it no, that he did not. She gave him a loud lecture. Everyone could hear about how he never came prepared even though she had been telling him for weeks that he had to have his supplies.
Miss Para-pro told him he was always forgetting to bring his lunch or his lunch money. The boy didn’t react much at all; he just looked defeated standing there with his head hanging low with embarrassment. The para-pro in a stern voice said, “Just go sit down!” She seemed really annoyed and looked as if she had been disrespected. She told me this was an everyday conversation with him and that he would never amount to anything.
My heart hurt for the boy named Topher. Later while the kids were at recess I told her he reminded me of a little boy I once knew. I told her the story of a little boy by the name of Sam who was about the same age as Topher at the time. I used to spend time at Sam’s house because I was friends with his sisters. The house was always a mess. The laundry was piled high and there was very little to eat in the house if anything at all. From the outside, the house looked like a normal little home; but on the inside, it was only a house – not a home at all. His mother was a single mom and had to work a lot, she had her hands full just trying to keep a roof over their heads. She was gone most of the time. The father was unable to be in his life at all for a while. His sisters were older and had friends of their own. Sam was the youngest of the three and was kind of left to himself a lot.
The little boy would ride home on the school bus and go play with the neighborhood kids. When he came home, there was usually no dinner waiting on the table because of their mom working two jobs. She usually got home late. It was up to the kids to fend for themselves. Sam often ate at his friend’s house.
There was usually no one to say “Time for homework”, or ask, “How was your day?” No one to say,”Time for your bath”, or, “Time for bed.” No one to tuck him in, no hugs, no goodnight, much less, an I love you. Not to say he wasn’t loved, everyone was just doing what they had to do each day to get by.
Most mornings, the little boy usually woke up to someone yelling his name saying that he was going to be late. The bus was outside blowing its horn! The little boy would jump up and grab some clothes from the pile on the floor – no time to run a comb through his hair or brush his teeth…certainly not enough time to eat breakfast. He only had time to dash out the door so he wouldn’t miss his only way to school.
He would arrive at school dirty, hungry, sleepy, unprepared, and looking disheveled. When he got to school, he usually got reprimanded for never bringing what he needed. Some days were cold and he would arrive without his coat. Did he ever tell his mother he needed supplies for school? Yes, but that was all he could do. After all, he was only a little boy. The rest was up to the parent. A little boy does not have the means to go on his own and purchase what he needed. Sam’s mother never had much extra money and even less time for anything much more than work. To be honest, she felt like the school should have enough supplies to give him what he needed, she was just too tired to care.
Just like this little boy in the class I was substituting for, it was an everyday occurrence with Sam as well. After years passed, Sam became more and more discouraged; and without encouragement from anyone at home or school, you may already know or be able to guess: Sam didn’t get far in life. When he was older, he was bullied at school, he became discouraged and lost hope, and soon he dropped out of school. He got into drugs and in with the wrong crowd.
He was never able to get a good paying job much less his dream job. For people without a support system, it’s hard. I told Miss Para-pro that she was right – that without some help and encouragement, this little boy may not make it very far in life. The children with parents who support them and give them everything they need will be more apt to succeed in life. Children like Sam and Topher need someone to reach out and give them some hope and encouragement to dream. One person may be able to give that child just what they need to keep them going in the right direction. You may be the only hope they ever see.
Miss Para-pro looked funny and said, “You know, I never looked at it that way.” She seemed to have some compassion, pity, and understanding come over her face. Her eyes had tears in them. I think she felt bad because she just assumed the worst about Topher. It didn’t dawn on her that he actually asked for supplies and for help with his homework but never got either. She thanked me and said she had never had a substitute like me.
Later, when we got back to the room, she went to the class cabinet and got a writing tablet, pencils, and a box of crayons. She wrote his name on them, called him over to her desk, and told him she was sorry and that he was a smart young man. He looked up with the sweetest smile you ever saw. He looked like it was Christmas day…and maybe for him, it was.
I don’t know what happened to that little boy, but I pray his life began to change for the better that day. I continued to pray for Topher and I hope that Sams story helped to create a change in his life that day and maybe for other children like him. I hope you will share this story, it may touch more lives and encourage change.
You never know what others are going through. You never know what a difference a few kind words of encouragement may do in someone’s life; perhaps even change their future. Your actions may prevent someone from giving up or feeling worthless. Change can begin with us. Become the hope, be the one who encourages dreams to come true in a discouraged heart. Decide to make a difference. There is no “substitute” for love and kindness.
Faith, Hope, Love, Encouragement, Dreams, Success.
I want to give a special “Thank you” to all the wonderful caring teachers. Thank you for making a difference in so many lives.
“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you HOPE and a FUTURE.”
We are to be like Christ… we should not harm others with our words, but give them hope and encouragement. Perhaps a kind word or a smile could offer the encouragement they need to believe in a better life. Everyone needs someone to believe in them.
Lord help us make a difference,
She Chose Grace