Sometimes, simple questions have complicated answers. One of my students, we’ll call him Ben, often acts up during class. At the beginning of the year, his behavior was a huge problem. It made the classroom difficult to manage. I began developing a rapport with him, getting to know him, learning the significance of the many tattoos covering his 13-year-old arms. One was a woman’s name whom I learned was his grandmother – one of his primary caregivers and someone he aspires to make proud. 

As the year wore on, Ben’s behavior became more manageable. We developed a mutual respect for one another, especially after he joined my behavior lunches for 50 Acts of Leadership, where I mentor him about how to be a better leader inside and outside of the classroom.  We talk about how his week is going, what it means to be a good friend, what a leader looks like, all the questions that help make a person more self-aware of their role in their environment.

Since we started, Ben has been much more accountable about his actions. He still gets into trouble sometimes – he has a very big personality, but he’s starting to take responsibility and he’ll tell me that I’m not going to get a good behavior report from such-and-such a teacher because of something he did. We talk about it and how to do better. He’s learning how to keep himself in check. Sometimes though, and I think this happens to everyone, you get so overwhelmed with life that it gets hard to keep yourself in check. You start looking for an outlet for whatever it is you’re feeling.

Lately, Ben has struggled keeping himself in control during class, and when I pull him to talk, he’s lost sight of his accountability. One day, I pulled him out of class and I asked him – “Hey, you okay?”

I asked him how things are at home, and how his Grandma is doing. He told me she was in the hospital and was supposed to get surgery. Ben would never show that he is worried or that there’s something weighing on his shoulders, but it became suddenly very apparent to me that there was a lot of stress riding on him, and that his behavior might stem from not having an outlet. So I gave him an opportunity to talk about it – to let loose of whatever was happening outside of his control.

Many of our kids don’t have the same support system that we grew up with. They bring so many stressors into the classroom with them that is simply a part of their real life – just not the kind of real life that a 13-year-old should have to come to terms with on top of just trying to be a kid. As a Corps Member in City Year, I have to stay mindful that I’m not only a mentor – I can be an outlet for my kids to let go of the things riding on them safely with trust, empathy, and compassion. And it just goes to show – you never know what someone else is going through until you give them an opportunity to tell you. Be quick to listen, and slow to judge.


Written by Preston Reynolds, proud City Year AmeriCorps member serving on the Jacksonville Jaguars team at Gilbert Middle School


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