Herald Journal Columns
May 22, 2006, Herald Journal

Nothing done for a child is ever wasted


Last week, I wrote on, (how we can make a difference in a child’s life,) whether it be working with a child, or a group of children, on an ongoing basis, or making an impact on a one-time occasion.

I don’t substitute teach very often, because of other responsibilities, but when I do enter the classroom, I thoroughly enjoy it. I sincerely enjoy interacting and being around our young people.

Most recently, I subbed in a neighboring district’s elementary school, where I worked with students receiving special education services. I always try to approach each child, with enthusiasm, and an “I am glad you’re here, and I am eager to work with you” greeting.

Whether subbing, or in another situation with children, this approach, (with a possible joke or humor thrown in), sets up a positive, and safe, learning environment for everyone to hopefully, thrive in, and helps decrease negative behavior incidences, which is beneficial for everyone involved, including me – as the teacher, or the leader.

I had finished working with a small group of students, and was waiting for a second grade boy to come in and focus on some money math. I was told the boy was in the office complaining of a stomachache. I had learned, from other staff members, the boy’s ailments had been the norm for him recently. There was a reason for the boy’s stomachaches and change in behavior. His parents were going through a divorce, and his dad was moving out.

How can situations like that not affect a child, and his normal functioning? The boy’s life and world, as he knew it, was changing dramatically. Maybe it was necessary, but nonetheless, it was a major change for the boy. His environment would not be the same as he knew it, nor did he have control over it.

I really knew nothing else about the boy, but he came in and sat down, looking like he was downtrodden. He immediately said, “I don’t feel well. I have a stomachache.”

Now, I knew that I may never see the boy again, and had just met him, so I felt that I should not get into a big discussion with him about his situation, but I wanted to affirm his feelings, which is something that is important for all of us. I wanted him to feel that at that moment, he could feel safe.

So I said, “I am glad to meet you, Rob, (not his real name), and I can see that you may not be feeling the best, but I am here to work with you, and am glad I get to do that.”

Then I changed topics, and asked him if he would like to own his own store, (his lesson was to be on money skills). He looked at me and said again, “I have a stomachache.”

I proceeded to quickly put together a pretend store, gathering a play cashbox, and money. His interest peaked. I then asked if he would rather be the store owner and cashier or the customer.

He immediately said, “Store owner.” We proceeded to have a very productive lesson on counting money and giving change, changing roles as the lesson went on and not mentioning the stomachache. In fact, when it was time to close the store, he wanted to keep it open and continue, but we ended the lesson, and we departed with a handshake and a smile.

I’m certainly not claiming that he did not have a stomachache. We all know what stress can do to anyone, including a child. But for a moment, he forgot about his stressful home situation, (at least it wasn’t at the forefront of his thoughts), and had some fun, while learning, as well – a coping mechanism.

Could I change the child’s home situation? Obviously, no. Would I see him again? Maybe, but probably not. But what I could do was, for a brief while, help provide an opportunity for him to thrive, and focus on something that he could control. His home situation was out of his control. I’m sure people, such as his other teachers, were doing the same for him, but I happened to have the opportunity to work with him on that one day.

As I was leaving the classroom and school building, to get my lunch from my vehicle, Rob was in the hallway with his class. He saw me with my jacket and said to me across the hallway, “Where are you going? Don’t leave. I want to work with you later.”

I stopped in my tracks, and conveyed that I would see him later.

I did work with him on reading, and it went well. I had formed a bond with a child, but for one day. I will never forget it, and he may not either, at least for the day.

We can make a difference in a child’s life, even for one day.

Nothing that we do, for a child, is ever wasted.


“When we are new, and when we are fresh and young, our hearts are very open, in a way that they may never again be, the rest of our lives –so that the impressions that are made on us, and the good that is done for us, the kindness, and generosity, by which a child lives, are never forgotten. Never forgotten.”

“Nothing that you do, for a child, is ever wasted. Ever. You may never know exactly what that child saw, or how that child received it, but any gift you give a young person, is permanent. It is more permanent than this building, because it is then given to other people, and is as permanent, as we know.”

– Garrison Keillor