Ahmed was one of the cool guys. He was tall, good looking, confident, well- spoken, street smart, other kids followed him and looked up to him. If he had an idea, the others followed him. He was a leader, but going in the wrong direction. He was a dude, a gang leader and wore a gold chain and trendy clothes.
He was in the lowest English class in Year 11 and only attended class once a week if he felt like it. When he came, he understood more of the text than any other students who had attended every lesson. He answered questions correctly and with insight and intelligence. But, he was failing badly, and the teachers didn’t like him. He was demoralised and on the verge of being expelled for smoking, drugs, non-attendance and disrespect towards authority.
I had ONE conversation with Ahmed to handle this problem. It took about 7 – 10 minutes of my time outside of class one day in a relaxed fashion.
Here is the conversation outline:
Megan: Hi Ahmed, I was wondering if it’s a good time to talk with you now? (respecting)
Ahmed: I suppose so. What’s it about?
Megan: Well, I’ve heard that you’ve been having some troubles recently and …. I’m a bit concerned about you. Can you tell me what the problems is? (I am telling him that I want to listen to him)
Ahmed: (relaxes when he sees I’m interested in his version and I’m not going to yell at him) Well, I keep getting caught for things that I do wrong. I don’t really mean to do them, but …. (trails off)
Megan: hmmmm. Anything else? (opportunity to express himself and I will listen – he feels a sense of being cared for and being important)
Ahmed: All the teachers are against me! I can’t do anything right. I feel like shit … oops, sorry Miss. I mean, you know what I mean right? (looks dejected)
Megan: Well, actually, yes, I think I do. (understand and accepting/validation) (He looks surprised at my response)
Megan: Once you do something wrong, it’s hard to prove to people that you can do something good, isn’t it?
Ahmed: I think it’s impossible.
Megan: Perhaps you’re right.
Megan: Look, maybe there might be a solution. Would you be interested in hearing it – I have a few ideas.
Ahmed: well, ok but I don’t know how much good it’ll do.
Megan: Well, I listened to you, right?
Megan: Well, this is what I see when I look at you. I think that you’re very intelligent. You don’t come to class much, but when you do, you get everything right! Do you think the other guys in the class can do that?
Ahmed thinking for a bit: No probably not.
Megan: Right, but you can. Do you realise that you have leadership abilities?
Ahmed: What is that?!
Megan: Well, when you’re with your friends, do they follow you or do you follow them?
Ahmed: They follow me.
Megan: That is the sign of a person who can lead other people. And furthermore, do you know that some of the most influential people in the world had problems with teachers at school because they questioned things?
Ahmed: I didn’t know that.
Megan: Well, it’s true, go and read some biographies and autobiographies of famous people.So, now that you recognise that you have the ability to lead other people, that gives you a kind of power, right?
Ahmed: I never really thought about it like that I mean, I never thought of myself as powerful before.
Megan: Well, if you have the power to influence other people, you can do bad things and people will follow you – and that’s how you and the other boys got suspended, right?
Megan: AND, on the other hand, if you do the right thing, you can get people to follow you and have a positive influence on people, in the world and you can make a difference.
Megan: What I mean is, that you have a choice about what kind of influence you have – because you are the kind of personality that is very strong and you can’t really hide it. So, if you take the wrong path, what do you think will happen?
Ahmed: I’ll probably go to prison eventually.
Megan: Is that what you want for yourself?
Ahmed: No but I don’t know what else to do. I’m having troubles at home and troubles with my girlfriend and (sigh) …….
Megan: Well, would you like to try something different? I mean, would you be willing to make a deal with me?
Ahmed: It depends what it is.
Megan: Well, here’s the deal: You come to all lessons and do all the homework I give you. I’ll help you if you need it. Do you think you can do that?
Ahmed: I suppose so.
Megan: Would you be willing to apologise to the other teachers and tell them that you’ll try to improve and ask for their support?
Ahmed: Well, I suppose so.
Megan: Well, you need to do something different here or you might be asked to leave the school permanently and you don’t want that, do you?
Ahmed: No. I really don’t. I want to do well.
Megan: I know you can be successful if you just give yourself a chance. The bottom line is come to class ok, and then do as much of the homework as possible, but come to class, listen and read the book. Is that a deal?
Ahmed: You really think I can do it?
Megan: Yes, Ahmed, I know you can but you must keep to your end of the deal, ok?
Ahmed: OK, it’s a deal then. (I forgot to say that Ahmed is a seriously big boy ... he towered over me at 17 years old)
He kept his end of the deal, missing one lesson due to misfortune with a valid reason.
In the next exam, Ahmed came second in the year group with 92%. When I found him and told him in person, he asked me if I was sure and I had to tell him three times. He smiled like a cheshire cat but he also had tears in his eyes (me too). After that, he changed his clothes and his hair. He stood taller. He looked well groomed, calm and proud of himself.
A few months later, he had to change schools as his mother found a new job. He didn’t want to leave the school.
The day he left, he came to my staff room to say goodbye of his own accord.
This is what he said to me (he looked nervous):
‘Miss, I just want to thank you for being the best teacher I’ve ever had.’ He paused. ‘I also want to say thank you for believing in me when I didn’t even believe in myself.’