The former student, who fell so far behind on credits he couldn’t graduate, held my five year old son’s head between his hands. He picked up a pair of scissors. Then he looked me in the eyes and asked: “How short do you want it?” My barber was my student.
It’s a truth that we never know what kind of adults the students in our care will become. As teachers (and administrators) we do our best to guide them to good choices, and prepare them to have as many opportunities as possible, but as they walk out of our doors, their lives are their own.
This weekend, as I took my son in for a haircut I was reminded that sometimes the hard work we put in has longer term payoffs. My barber, who at twenty-three, and as a result of his own father’s passing, now finds himself a small business owner, never got his diploma from the comprehensive high school where I work. He made some bad decisions, spent too much time “chasing girls” and “hanging out with the wrong guys,” and found himself so far behind on credits that he was transferred to our continuation high school. There he got himself together, graduated, and went into the family business: barbering.
On paper the sixteen year old my barber was would not have gone down as a success, but as he talked with me Saturday, remembering his positive relationship with his guidance counselor and an assistant principal, both of whom he spoke fondly of, I realized that what we did in the time he was with us did make a difference. Ultimately it was his family and the good work of the teachers at the continuation school who got him his diploma, but the stage was set for this success by the hard work at LCC to instill a sense of responsibility, show him respect, and let him know that even while he was making poor decisions, he was capable of doing better.
My take away, beyond a very good haircut, was a reminder of the importance of treating all students well. My barber thought in positive terms of school in general and LCC in particular, not because of the academic success he experienced, but because of individuals who showed him kindness, caring, and respect.