Small Things are Big Things
In my efforts to make a connection with Matt I found out that he has a great enthusiasm for video games (much like myself in days past). Normally he'd seem glum, quietly shrouded in his hoodie, but his eyes would light up when talking about gaming. He seemed surprised that an adult not only did not shun his hobby, but was also conversant on the subject. He would come in before class and bend my ear about a new area he'd explored in Skyrim, the lore of Halo, the relative merit of ACOG vs Red-dot, and suchlike.
About three weeks before the end of the semester he told me that the power adapter on his Xbox had broken (the big grey brick thing, whatever it's called). I'd mentioned to him before that I have an Xbox but that I don't have any time to play it nowadays. So, he asked if he could borrow my adapter. Now, I wanted to see him happy, but I was also wary about what message I'd be giving him by simply passing it on with no questions asked. So, I told him I'd at least need a note from his parents that said it was OK for him to have it. Matt was doing alright in my class, but it's a relatively untaxing elective, so I checked around with his other teachers and found out he was in danger of failing a couple of his classes and possibly repeating the year. So, when Matt brought the note in the next day I made him a deal that I'd give him the adapter and an extra controller (he'd mentioned that his dad had wanted to try playing with him but he only had one controller) if he passed all of his exams and all of his courses for the semester. We shook awkwardly on it and he went on his way. He reminded me each day about our deal, though, and he did try to negotiate some details of it, but the deal remained what it was.
On the day after exams I found out, much to my relief, that he had passed all of his courses and exams, so I put the stuff in a box with a little note encouraging him to take my class next year, balance schoolwork and gaming, etc. This I took to be just a small victory, but I was humbled by his response. There were three other boys in my room making up late work when Matt came in with his mom to find out how he'd done. When I gave him the box he said "thanks!" and spontaneously gave me a big hug. This in front of his peers who were no doubt liable to mock him for it later. His mom, who was at least 20 years my senior said, "Thank you sir, it really does make a difference." On the way out he put his arm around his mom and she said "I'm proud of you, son." True story. Oh man, I've got something in my eye.