Story by Lynne Graham
I have been a Primary School teacher for many years now. Throughout my career there have been several occasions when incidents in the classroom have impacted me, just as much, if not more, than they have impacted the students in my classes. None more so than an experience I remember as if it was just yesterday.
David was a student with some major learning difficulties. He struggled with most areas of the curriculum. He was often covered in mud from his rather vigorous games outside. He was always the last to be chosen if teams were needed for games. Few children would willingly work with him or play with him. During lunch and snack times the other children in the class often swapped treasures or treats their parents had packed in their lunchboxes. I had never seen anyone swap anything with David. As often happens, David’s frustrations and feelings of rejection often led to misbehavior in the classroom. One day I had had to talk to him about some unacceptable behavior.
After our ‘chat’ David returned to his desk and I continued with the group of students I was working with at that time.
At first I didn’t notice David come up beside me. Before I had a chance to say anything David asked, “Do you like tomatoes?” I replied rather tersely, “Yes. David but… (Thinking this was just another strategy to avoid his work I was about to direct him, firmly, back to his seat). Before I could say a word David quickly turned and went back to his seat and continued with the work he had been set. I could not fathom his strange question and decided David was just avoiding the work he had been set. I turned away from him and back to my group.
Lunchtime came. David waited behind after all the other children had gone out to play and slipped quietly up to my desk where I was trying to get some marking done before going for my own lunch break.
“Please…” I looked up and saw a scruffy little boy with mud on his shoes. His hair was ruffled, his shirt hanging out, his nose running and tear tracks ran down his cheeks. His big brown eyes looked up at me with a longing for acceptance that I had not seen before.
It was then that David said, “I’ve got this for you”. There in his grubby little hand was a tiny, rather squashed, cherry tomato.
Tears came to my eyes as I realized that David was really hurting and needed, more than anything else, to know that I cared for him. He needed to know that my love and concern for him was not based on his looks, his behavior, or his scholastic performance. In his own little way David was attempting to restore our relationship by giving the only thing he had to give.
I drew David into my arms and gave him the hug he had been so desperate to receive. I took his little gift into my hand and through my own tears I said, “David that’s the best gift I have today. Thank you”
One little cherry tomato and one little boy’s willingness to give it up to restore a relationship. I wondered…David could have given up on our relationship. In his determination to cover his hurt and rejection, he could have become even more difficult or ‘switch off’ and give up on trying to achieve any worthwhile results in his academic work. But instead, David gave that rather unusual gift…all that he had…his special lunchtime treat…
How often do we as teachers say things or do things that can have a lasting effect on the children we teach? How often in the busyness of a school day, do we miss occasions when we need to listen with our hearts and see the real needs of the children in our care.
I wish I could say that David’s academic scores improved rapidly. I wish I could say the other children began to accept him more and welcomed him into their friendship groups or games…but those things didn’t happen. David continued to have problems with his behavior.
I can say though, that David often stayed behind at lunchtimes and we had some great times. Sometimes we would just sit and talk sometimes we just listened to music on the tape recorder. As I worked David would draw pictures.
I can also say that David taught me a great lesson and I will always remember the, ‘Lesson of the Little Tomato’.
I will always try to look beyond the external appearance, beyond the behavior, beyond the difficulties with academic work. I will always attempt to support the emotional needs of the children in my classes.
All thanks to David and his little cherry tomato.