“Understanding Robby,” Ensign, Jan. 1986, 30–31
“Good luck with Robby,” the secretary said as she handed me the list of names of the children in my new Primary Targeteers class. Someone else heard her and began to offer me her sympathies. Another sister nodded, and Robby’s former teacher was about to give me his awful past history when I excused myself.
I was surprised. I knew that sometimes school children were labeled by their teachers, but surely not Primary children!
That evening as I prayed, I thanked Father in Heaven for the opportunity to teach some of his children and asked for special help with Robby. I pleaded for guidance and vowed to do everything I could to understand Robby and help get rid of his label.
The next Sunday, Robby’s mother pulled me aside to warn me about her son’s hyperactivity and to offer me her support. She said she would be willing to discipline him at home if I told her when he acted up. I thanked her, but I didn’t tell her that this year I wanted things to be different.
The first week or two of Primary, things went smoothly. I wondered why anyone else had had problems with Robby. His sparkling blue eyes were full of mischief, but he was not disruptive. He just knew all the answers. The other boys had a hard time keeping up with him. They often relied on him to give the answers. And Robby took pleasure in the attention he got and sometimes showed off deliberately.
I soon realized that Robby wasn’t the only one who needed understanding; all seven of my students had special problems and needs. So each week as I taught them about important gospel principles, I also tried to meet those needs.
I found that Robby’s needs were not the hardest to meet—Steven’s were. Steven had a learning disability. He always arrived five or ten minutes after class had started and sat alone in the back corner. The other boys teased and made fun of him. And because he longed for acceptance and friendship, he bore it all quietly—week after week.
One week when Steven arrived, he brightened up to see that the only empty seat was right in the middle of the rest of the boys. But they quickly grabbed the chair and placed it in the back corner, and Steven sat alone again.
I was speechless—not because I didn’t know what to say or do, but because the Spirit was telling me to let it happen. I wanted to scold the children but felt restrained. I could hardly believe it! But I continued as though nothing was wrong.
All the next week I felt discouraged about my class. I didn’t know what to do to help Steven. Robby’s problems were beginning to surface, and the rest still had needs I didn’t know how to meet. I prayed and received no definite solution—only the assurance that everything would be all right.
Robby was especially hard to handle during opening exercises the next week. I dreaded taking six unruly boys into a tiny classroom. I dreaded watching Steven come through the door and seeing the hurt look in his eyes again.
I reached the classroom before my students did. As I opened the door, I felt a calm reassurance that today would be the beginning of the end of our problems.
The boys rushed in, rearranged the carefully placed chairs, and sat down. I stood up to give them a few instructions. But I wasn’t sure what I was going to say, and was a bit surprised at what I did say.
I told the boys that from now on we would have a sharing time in class. We would talk about the school day or whatever they wanted until Steven arrived. Then I explained Steven’s need to be accepted and to have friends. I told them that they needed Steven, too.
Steven opened the door, his head hanging lower than it ever had before. Robby jumped up, grabbed him by the arm, and pulled him into the room. The boys insisted that he sit in the middle of them. They welcomed him without hesitation. Steven beamed!
Robby finished his worksheet first—as usual. Then I quietly asked him to help Steven.
The rest of that year Robby helped Steven without being asked. One week he labored with him for nearly ten minutes to write the word “prophet” in a blank. Another time he was so enthusiastic that he forgot to do his own worksheet. He cheered and praised Steven for each effort he made. And Robby’s good influence rubbed off on the other boys; when he wasn’t there, they eagerly took his place in helping Steven.
When Robby’s mother asked me how things were going, I told her about the work he was doing with Steven. I told her how much I loved him and that she should be proud of him. Delighted, she confided that she really had known all along that her son wasn’t a problem.
And when Steven’s mother asked me how Steven got along in the class, I was able to tell her honestly that everyone in the class loved him. He had often been rejected by others, but because of the inspiration of the Spirit in our Primary class, the other boys had accepted him and he had discovered his own self-worth.
How thankful I am for a loving Father who answers prayers, and who gave me the opportunity and the inspiration to help these young people grow!