The Family Excerpt Four

I have been truly blessed to have such a wonderful family. When it came time to finally put

words to paper, I couldn’t leave them out, in fact, they all became fair game.


The following is an excerpt from my new book…





Building a Successful Relationship with a Student

Shouldn’t Be About the Potato Salad

I once had a student who locked horns with a teacher in the classroom next to mine. Every day, I would hear the teacher say the student’s name over and over. “John, are you paying attention?” “John, open your book!” “John, stop doing that.” The teacher’s name was Miss Morrison. I had heard her share her feelings concerning John in the faculty room on several occasions. She had heard from other teachers that John was a behavior problem and so she had decided that she knew everything there was to know about John before she ever met him. She had no intention of building a behavior overpass, let alone a behavior bridge. On one particular day, I heard Miss Morrison say, “John, put your folder on the shelf.” Now I don’t know what was in the folder or why it needed to be on the shelf but for this teacher, the act of John placing his folder on the shelf was “about the potato salad.”


My Aunt Sally was my father’s only sister and the only girl in the house. One day, during the Great Depression, when my Aunt Sally was about nine years old, that all changed. My Nana’s sister died suddenly. Shortly after the funeral, my Great Uncle Frank, the widower, appeared at my Nana’s door with a few bags and his three daughters; my Aunt Franny, Aunt Helen and Aunt Madeline. “I am keeping the boys and I need you to take the girls,” was all he said. My Aunt Sally was now one of four girls in the house and of course, there was little money.


About 50 years later, at the family 4th of July picnic, my Aunt Sally and my Aunt Helen became engaged in a huge argument “about the potato salad.” More and more conversations stopped, as this argument escalated. No one could believe what they were seeing. My Aunt Sally and my Aunt Helen hadn’t said an unkind word to each other in 50 years. Finally, my Uncle Bill and my Dad walked over to my aunts to see how this argument “about the potato salad,” which was now at a full boil (pardon the pun), could be settled. On the way home, I asked my parents why Aunt Sally and Aunt Helen had become so angry “about the potato salad.” My Mom turned to look at me and said, “When it comes to family arguments, it is never really about the potato salad.”


Mom was right. The argument had nothing to do with the potato salad. There was tension dating back over 50 years; tension that dated back to the day Great Uncle Frank appeared at the door and lives were changed. Both aunts had finally reached their breaking point and everyone at the picnic knew that this argument “about the potato salad” had nothing to do with the potato salad.


So, on the day that John’s folder had to go on the shelf, the folder had become “the potato salad.” All the tension that had been building between John and Miss Morrison had culminated with the folder going on the shelf. I heard her say: “John, you need to start taking responsibility for your actions.” “John, you need to start to take pride in your work.” “John, you need to start to care about your education.” Finally, John placed the folder on the shelf and as he did, he made a statement that changed me. “You know what Miss Morrison?” John said, “You can make me do it, but you can’t make me care.”


There was no relationship between Miss Morrison and John. The teacher was asking of John one small action and one large action. The small action she asked was that John place the folder on the shelf. The large action she asked John to do was to care about his education and take pride in his work. Ultimately, John placed the folder on the shelf and as he did, his words reminded Miss Morrison that they had no relationship. Her words had not reached him. How could they? She was a stranger to him and he was a stranger to her. Even my four year old niece, Sarah, can tell you: “You should never listen to what a stranger tells you to do. They are not your friend or your family and they may want to hurt you.”


John was unwilling to open himself up and take a risk because, in his mind, Miss Morrison had not earned his trust. The day-to-day yelling had yielded only the small action. John finally placed the folder on the shelf. In his mind, Miss Morrison could make him do that but because Miss Morrison hadn’t taken a single step toward the building of a relationship bridge that led to him, John knew that he was standing all alone on the other side of the divide and he knew there was nothing she could say that would make him care.


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