I had Leonardo for three years. Recidivism was reasonably low at our school, so this was unusual. During his final year at my school, a teacher recommended him for my Techie group. I decided I was up to the challenge and added him to my first-period class.
At first, his “I don’t give a damn” attitude, despite being surrounded by clearly motivated peers, worried me. But I kept trying to find his niche.
One day, quite by accident, his strength became apparent. We were building a robot. I like to read instructions and have always had problems when given sketches as directions.
Most of the class was sorting and organizing computer parts and robotic pieces. I was attempting to build a “color sorter,” which used several sensors to determine the color of blocks and then sort them into piles.
Leonardo came over, sat by me, and asked what I was doing. I explained the concept and admitted that the picture directions made little sense to me.
He asked me if he could help. I immediately agreed, thinking, “Really, now? You have been a horses-patootie to me and think you can help?”
Leonardo looked at the mess I’d built, scanned the directions, and began explaining to ME what the problem was. Huh? The kid who hated everything and everyone, was teaching me about robotics.
I took a deep breath and smiled at him. Perhaps this was going to work after all.
I only had one hour a day with his group. Most days, we were out working on the building’s technology, so Leonardo tutored me for several weeks as I built this contraption. He was patient. He was kind. He smiled. His attitude during the activities that he did not prefer became more positive.
Finally, the eureka moment had occurred! We had bonded, and I had no more issues with Leonardo during the time he had left with me.
Teachers change lives. And I knew I’d made a difference.
Fast forward four years.
I was nearing the end of my 28th year in education. One May evening, I flipped to the news and turned on my usual station, WDRB. I was making something for dinner, and the tv was just background noise.
Then a story came on, and I heard Leonardo’s name. I froze. I walked to get a better view of the tv.
As I watched the story, I fell to my knees. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Leonardo had admitted to killing a man.
I turned off the tv.
My brain refused to process what I’d just seen.
All I heard now was the sound of silence.
“Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells, of silence.
From “The Sound of Silence”, rereleased by Disturbed
Original song by Paul Simon