Believing in a Student's Potential, Against the Odds

By Joana Caldas, Teach For Portugal Participant

I met Pedro (not his real name) in October during the first term of the last academic year. His name was on a list of students in my classes, although he had never been to any lessons. I learned he was a well-known student among the teachers because he was repeating 5th grade for the third time, without ever finishing it.  

The first day he showed up for school, he came into the classroom late and everybody stared at him. We welcomed him and tried to bring him into the class dynamic, and he seemed to have no problem keeping up with the lesson. During break, I asked him how his return to school was going and offered my support. He looked at me oddly. 

After that day, I didn’t see Pedro more than half a dozen times. He disappeared again and we got the news that he had been transferred to another school, as family problems had emerged. Life went on. And then at the end of the second term, when we were in lockdown, we were told that Pedro was once again being transferred to my school.

I next saw Pedro again at the beginning of this academic year. He was in one of my fifth grade classes again. There he was, towering above all his younger classmates on the first day of school. I smiled and welcomed him.

These days, he sits in the back row and, on his own accord, rarely participates in class. But he’s there, and he’s making an effort—trying to make up for all the attempts of the previous years. I sometimes talk to him during break time, encouraging him to work to his potential, to be a positive example to his classmates, to use his power to influence his friends in a constructive way.

Pedro has a group of classmates he gets along with, and sometimes in class I hear him say, “Be quiet, otherwise we won’t be able to make the most of the experiences the teacher is giving us,” or, “Remember the rules we agreed to with the teacher, you aren’t keeping to them.” I always smile at him and tell him, “Thanks for doing that, for what you said. I’m really pleased with you!” He shakes his shoulders shyly and looks away.

I truly believe in Pedro. I love to see the surprise on his face when he discovers something, as he awakens to learning—I’m not sure if he's even aware of it. That will be the next step.

Pedro ended the term without failing any subjects and with few absences. I know he’s still not gotten into the habit of studying, and sometimes, I still see his lost look because he’s not quite sure what his place is. Not in the classroom, but in the world.

I’m truly rooting for Pedro and I’m there to ensure this year will be a success for him, a year of real discovery, of school and of himself, against all odds and everyone's expectations.

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