“Two roads diverged
in a wood, and I –
I took the one
less traveled by
and that has made
all the difference.”
I often think of this poem because of the many choices people have in their lives. And just because they are young, does not mean that children are simple. Like adults, their problems and issues are complex and dynamic and require more than simple solutions. Guiding students through academic and personal problems takes time, effort, and genuine care.
One of my fifth-grade students, in particular, needed this type of approach. She hated coming to school, and her negative attitude and lack of effort in the classroom developed into a reputation among teachers and administrators.
But I tend to not take negative behavior at face-value. Rather than the disciplinary action she was accustomed to, I decided to try a different approach: I got to know her. I started by always saying hello in the hallways, which then turned into invitations into my office for quick chats, which eventually became full conversations.
One day I finally asked her why she doesn’t like school. She said nothing. So I then asked her what she does like to do. “I like to write,” she said.
When she finally showed me her poetry, I was moved. I wanted to let her know that she had a special gift. I wanted to tell her that her ability to write could take her so far. But I knew that telling her these things would only do so much. So instead, I asked her to make a deal with me.
I told her that if she brought me a poem every day, she could ask for something from me. What she asked in return was very simple—she wanted to eat lunch with me every day. During this time, we would read the poem she brought to me that day, which would spark conversations about more of her interests, her family, her future aspirations.
Slowly, she began letting go of the anger that once followed her like a cloud. Her teachers raved of her improvement, which reflected in her grades. Her mother noticed a huge difference at home, noting that her child was happier and more confident. You could tell that this child felt differently—better—about herself.
Student improvement and personal growth doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something you invest in over time through words of encouragement, motivation, and a genuine sense of care.
Through the struggles and hardships, I never gave up on that student. And in the end, she never gave up on me either. By taking the time to prove myself as a true advocate, she put her trust in me. Watching her as a student and her classwork grow and blossom continues to be one of my greatest accomplishments as an educator.
Five years later, Jordan still sends me her poetry. And five years later, it’s still my favorite thing to read.