Memories of a Boy Named Greg

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During my semester of student teaching, I had several students who caused me more than a small amount of stress. There was Heather, who absolutely hated everything about me and would never do anything I asked her to do. John, who would deliberately get into arguments with other students so he could be sent out of the room to work by himself. Lila, who was brilliant, but didn’t want to draw attention to herself so she did only mediocre work. James, who sometimes went hunting with his dad before school and one day accidentally brought his skinning knife to class. And Greg, who both played a role in my decision to not teach, and also became one of my favorite students.

This was back in 2006, and Greg had recently moved to our small Texas town from New Orleans, after Katrina had wiped away his whole life. His school had been destroyed, along with his school records. We were only just beginning to understand that Greg had been receiving special education services, but we weren’t sure why. Greg was 15 and still in the 9th grade. Greg, who was over six feet tall and weighed around 250 pounds, liked to pat me on the head as he entered the classroom.

One day after I went to go check on John, who was finishing a worksheet by himself in the hallway after snapping one of his classmate’s pencils in half, I turned around to find Greg had locked me out of the classroom. It was my last class of the day, and after the kids left, I called my dad and cried, “I don’t think I want to be a teacher after all.” I had four more weeks of student teaching left before graduation, and no plans for what else I could possibly be. But I knew I didn’t want this.

That week, we finished up Romeo and Juliet and on Monday I handed out copies of our new reading unit, To Kill a Mockingbird. When I gave the book to Greg, something happened. As I recall the memory now, I see it as though Greg swallowed a light bulb. His mouth dropped open to a huge “O”, and his face lit up. “I know this book!” he exclaimed. “We read it at my old school!”

And just like that, the kid who used to spend the class period wadding up worksheets and throwing them across the room became the kid asking if he could be the first student chosen to read aloud. When we had discussions, Greg always had an opinion or a contribution, an explanation. He only became upset if we didn’t read or discuss the book that day.

I’ve never regretted not using my teaching degree, but I do wonder about all the Gregs I never got to teach. I hope that Greg from New Orleans is doing ok. And James, and Lila, and John.

Not so much Heather, though.

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