Little Sweet Victories

NoThere is a boy in sixth grade that knows how to say one word well.

He wouldn’t answer questions. He wouldn’t read. He wouldn’t stand in front of the class. He wouldn’t play games. He wouldn’t open his book. Had this boy not been so insistent about not participating I may have overlooked him entirely.

The harder I’d try, the more he’d resist. The more I’d engage, the more he’d shut me out. This kid was officially driving me crazy.

Then a Chinese teacher told me to stop worrying about the boy.

“He never tries. All the teachers give up on him. We don’t want him at our school. His parents have money. He can be at this school and we just ignore him.”

Everyone else had given up on the boy. Would you?

I met with my boss and she listened empathetically. The next day she met with the boy and learned he’s afraid of trying and failing. He thinks other students will laugh at him if he says words incorrectly.

For the next two weeks this boy’s fear of failure inspired our lessons. Over 600 students learned about failure and that we’ve all tried and failed in some way. Then the following week we learned about success. All the while reenforcing that if we never try, we never fail (or succeed). It’s okay to fail. When we fail, we learn and grow.

I can happily report that almost a month later this boy is doing great! By simply trying he discovered a good set of pronunciation skills and a new sense of confidence. He’s participating in class, smiling and talking to me around campus. I feel like I’ve won the lottery!

We’re here to help in any way we can and encourage each other to be our best selves. To let people know you’ve got their back if they try and fail. And it’s these little sweet victories that ultimately give our lives purpose, fuel us with passion, and prepare us for the next challenge.

What are some of your little sweet victories?

An Absent Boy Taught Us


On Wednesdays and Fridays I teach fourth graders. Since the beginning of school a boy named Thomas would meet me at the classroom door. Thomas takes my hand and escorts me to the next class. His class.

Thomas is always excitable, curious, helpful, and friendly. Every time I see Thomas he has a huge grin stretching across his face. Thomas has become a welcome touchstone for Wednesday afternoons.

Except this week.

He wasn’t there to greet me at the door. He wasn’t there to help me between periods. He wasn’t at his desk. His books weren’t out. His name card wasn’t displayed.

Pointing at the empty desk I asked, “Where’s Thomas?”

The Chinese teacher looked up from her cellphone, “He had an accident. He broke his leg.” She explained another boy in class played “a trick” on Thomas by tripping him.

Almost a year ago — to the day — I broke my hand acting. I empathize with Thomas. If you’ve ever broken a bone you know the shit he’ll have to put up with for the next two months.

You should also know that Thomas isn’t like the other kids. He falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. It takes him twice as long to understand a concept and he’s usually a few minutes behind class discussions. And Thomas has a spirit as big as the Rock of Gibraltar. He always tries and gives his best. He always participates. He’s always happy. 

Yet I sense the other students are embarrassed to have this boy in their class. The students roll their eyes at his answers. They tolerate him. He’s beneath them because he’s not like them.

Their reactions break my heart. I felt angry and sad thinking of all the times the kids have been mean to him. For all the times Thomas tried and other people laughed in his face. For all the times Thomas felt alone without a friend in class. For all the time he’ll be spending without social interaction and wondering what his classmates are doing and if he’s missed or thought of…

Fuck the lesson!

Today everyone’s making cards to send to Thomas!

The Chinese teacher left to get some construction paper and came back with two 12″ x 18″ sheets. “Which one do you want? Red. Orange.” 

“Both.” I sent another student to get reinforcements of green and blue.

We learned ‘we miss you,’ ‘get well soon,’ ‘feel better,’ ‘best wishes,’ and so on. And every student decorated their own card creatively. I made a card too!

Class card project

Yesterday the Chinese teachers went to Thomas’ home to give a lesson and brought all of the cards. I wish I could’ve seen his reaction!

A card from Dora

The world needs more people like Thomas. We’d all be better off if we took a note from his book.

Thomas recovering at home

Miss You While You’re With Me

Michael in BeijingIt’s scary missing people, places, and things.

Scary to be without the people you love, trust, and depend on. Scary to be so far from home. Scary to not have the comforts of home.

But no matter where you go the people, places, and things of your past are always with you. They’re a part of you. They’ve changed you and shaped you.

Friends, family, and even that shitty apartment with the radiators that never worked remain in your heart and mind. If you listen you can hear their laughter and see them smiling back at you beaming with pride.

It’s comforting to know wherever you roam you’ll always have company.

But I miss you, even while you’re with me.