“What an Eight-Year-Old Taught Me,” Ensign, Sept. 1999, 20
In five years of teaching Primary, I had never encountered a pupil like John. He would somehow disrupt my whole Primary class, talking or getting others to talk to him. I am sorry to say now that I sometimes hoped he wouldn’t be there on a Sunday because of his potential for disruption. He came from a family who didn’t attend church regularly; occasionally his mother would gather her children together and bring them by herself.
Then one week at a teacher development meeting for Primary teachers, the instructor gave a lesson on discipline, encouraging us to set some goals and try to improve discipline in our classes. I set my goal to try to help John, though I must admit I had little hope for improvement.
That week I prayed for John whenever possible, hoping for all the help I could get for him. Then when Sunday came I found myself apprehensive that he actually would show up for Primary.
He was one of the last to wander into the classroom. Of course he disrupted the class; that day he seemed to try my patience more than usual. He would poke the child next to him or hit him. It seemed he cracked a joke with every other question I asked. I felt I wasn’t getting my lesson across to anyone.
After class, on an impulse—I am sure the Holy Spirit prompted me—I asked John to stay. I pulled my chair in front of him and looked him in the eye. He looked at me for a while, then looked down at the floor.
“Do you like disrupting the class and picking on the other children all that much?” I asked. He played with the hole in the knee of his jeans as he thought about it for several seconds. “It gives me something to do,” he said finally.
“Are my lessons that boring to you?” I asked. He answered simply, “Yes.”
Well, I asked for that, I thought.
“Besides, my mom makes me come to Primary, and I hate it,” John added.
“What would you rather be doing?”
“I’d rather be outside playing with my friends,” he answered loudly and emphatically.
I struggled not to react angrily. “Well, I can’t help you there, but I’d like to make your stay at Primary more enjoyable. I don’t want you to have to come and hate my class. Can you make any suggestions how I could help you? I could use some ideas.”
As he thought for a moment, I watched the expressions on his face, feeling love and compassion for him. I could imagine him enjoying his play outside and resenting being called away as his mother made him come to Primary for reasons he did not understand.
Finally, he volunteered, “You could play games with us to help us learn what you’re trying to teach.”
“I’ve tried a few games. You don’t seem to be interested in them,” I answered. “But if I try really hard to make the class more interesting, do you think you can try a little harder to help out and not cause trouble?”
“Yes,” he said quickly, and I promised, “If you do that for me, I’ll let you help me in a game next week.”
He got up to leave, and as I walked him to the door I gave him a big squeeze. It seemed to embarrass him a bit. But after that day I noticed that when he would come to class, he would be the last one to leave; he stood by the door as I said good-bye to the other children, waiting for his hug.
From then on, he tried hard not to cause trouble, and I tried to show him I cared about him, involving him in activities in the classroom whenever possible.
I’ll never forget John. When he was ready to be baptized, he called me to tell me when the service was scheduled, just to be sure I could make it. He told me his father was going to be there and that the confirmation would follow the baptism because his father had to work on Sunday.
There was nothing unusual about the baptism, but during the confirmation I felt the presence of the Holy Ghost strongly. After the service was over, John came to give me a hug. “This is my Primary teacher,” he said to his father. I could barely say hello because of the tears in my eyes. On my way home, I thought, What if I had just written off this little boy as a lost cause? My heart was full of gratitude that I had not.
I don’t know what eventually happened to John. He moved away long ago. But he taught me a valuable lesson that I will never forget. I try to look at each child, whether Primary age or older, as a child of God. I know that in the sight of the Lord they are worth more than I can ever know, even when they are the ones causing the most trouble, so I try to show them I love them. While I may not like some of their actions, I know they are still worthy of the kind of treatment the Savior would give them.