What Will You Do That Will Last Forever?

At the beginning of each school year I ask my students, "What will you do that will last forever?" This catches them off-guard so I ask, "What genius or talent inside of you will you develop that gives so much to the world you will be remembered long after you're gone?" I then point out people who have died but are still living through the gifts they've given the world.

One of these students in my 5th grade class last year was Patrice Blemur, newly arrived from Haiti. Since I "feel strong" for students versus feel sorry for them, he didn't exactly like my high expectations for him. He would complain that it wasn't fair that I expected him to perform on grade level since his classmates had known English for 10 years, and this was his first. I told him then he had to work 10 times as hard as everybody else.

When he told me no one liked him and he felt I should get them in trouble, I told him I wouldn't like him either because all he did was complain about everyone. That night his homework was to go home and write something positive about everyone and say it to them the next day.

When he would get frustrated and misbehave I would tell him that it was OK to have his feelings, but that it was not OK to react the way he did. I told him he was stronger and better than that. He would tell me "No I'm not." Several times I looked him in the eyes and said "Yes you are, and I'll believe it for you until you do."

By December he had made over 100% improvements on county tests in both reading and math. He also scored in the top 25% of the country on a national reading test. He made friends with everyone in class. And he smiled and laughed, every day.

Patrice is now lying in a hospital bed in Boston.

A car crash claimed his mother's life and critically injured Patrice. Below is a letter I wrote to the staff at our school. There were a lot of rumors and concerns and I wanted to communicate what happened, as well as how Patrice had decided to focus on what he could do instead of what he couldn't, and the amazing results that came out of it.

A few days later, I spoke at his mother's funeral. I spoke of the great accomplishments her son had made, and that as a result I was establishing the "Patty Boy Blemur" Award. Any student making 100% gains on tests will receive this award, for as long as I am teaching, which is the rest of my life. Hopefully, a student-turned-teacher will also give out this award, and Patrice's accomplishments will live on long after I'm gone, perhaps forever.

We never know when the special people in our lives will be taken away from us and we never know how (through death, disability, divorce, estrangement, etc.) My suggestion is to love your loved ones while they're still in your life, before it's too late. Let them know what they mean to you and take the time to appreciate them everyday.

Patrice had become special to me. He is a testimony to how a life can change when you change the way you look at your life. Little did I know my journey with Patrice was just beginning. For more on this, see the poem he and I wrote together, his last night in Orlando, called "Patty Boy Blemur".

January 10, 2006

Some of you have already heard that one of our students was in a car accident this weekend. Very sadly, his mother died and Patrice is on life support. He has no other siblings at the school and this was his first year at Orlo Vista. He is in my class.

On Patrice's behalf, who WILL get better, there is a thought I wanted to share. He has made major improvements this year, both socially and academically. I believe this happened because of the culture of our school; supportive, appreciative, and talented. I believe every student can have Patrice's results. And I believe every teacher here can make it happen.

We know as teachers we have a powerful influence on our students. If we believe in them, they tend to believe in themselves. If we like them, they are more likely to like themselves.

To be appreciated and even loved as we are, to be seen for everything we could be and should be, is an incredible gift to receive. And it is a very rare gift, one that some of us will never know. Most of us give and receive the "gift" of criticism and judgment and doubt. Sadly, we have no control in receiving this rarer gift of support, appreciation and belief.

But we can control giving this gift. We can decide to see all our students for all the good they are and all the greatness they can achieve.. And we can believe this about them until they believe it about themselves.

That is the choice Patrice had in this class and that is the choice he made. I told him that if he wanted me off his back he had to believe in himself as much as I did. He had to believe that HE COULD get along with others and the HE COULD learn English and to read.

He is now friends with everyone in class. The one student I suspected still had issues with Patrice was the one whose face showed the most pain this morning at hearing the news. Patty Boy Blemur (my nickname for him) went from constant excuses of "but I can't read English" to scoring in the top 25% of the country on the latest DRP and an AR winner last Thursday. He didn't know he was a good reader, but I did. I wonder if he knows he's a great reader. I wonder if all our students do?

Every time along the way that he took a step backwards I told him I couldn't wait for him to take two steps forward, that I KNEW he was going to do it, and that I knew he was going to do it NOW. No one was allowed to give up on htemselves and I wasn't allowed to give up on them. Misbehavior wasn't allowed because we were too busy making our lives incredible. We were Dreaming Big, Doing Big, and Being Big.

Patrice has become very big, taking gigantic strides from his former self.

Now, today, we continue to believe in Patrice and support him, to wait for his return and choose TO KNOW he's going to do it. In the meantime, we remember every good thing about him and believe in everything he wants to be, which right now is to be well.

On Patty Boy's behalf:

Live each day as if it were your last, and make sure you love your students as if it was.



Anonymous said...

My thoughts and prayers are with Patty Boy because I know he needs them from a "mom". xo twinsmom68

Anonymous said...

Adam, this is a great letter. Think how powerful the world would be if we all felt as this way not only towards others, but towards ourselves as well.

Adam Stuart said...

Amen J, Amen. I'll start it by taking your advice. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I think you have a lot of good things to say and share.


Anonymous said...

Adam-This story was heart wrenching. It brought tears to my eyes. You are truly a gift to your students. Joanna

J.C.G. said...

Patrice is a wonderful example to all of us,and even though he is laying in a hospital bed,he can still become BIG.