By Vincent Segalini

Marcus is loud, his casual register echoing off every surface in my classroom. He is looked up to by all his peers, but not for the reasons we wish our students were idolized. Marcus comes from a tough family. While there are no siblings, there is also no father. Marcus grew up in the streets and lives in the streets. In the classroom he gets done just enough to pass, eking out a D each semester. He is more interested in laughing, football, and girls. After all, he is the star on the football field and he gives a great example of why relationships matter when teaching at-risk students.

I met Marcus when I first started teaching at the high school level. The first time he walked into class, I told myself I was going to work with him, building a relationship of trust and respect so I could be a resource for him. I dedicated myself to building a strong mentor relationship with Marcus over the course of the semester. However, Marcus had other plans. As the semester progressed, I took the time to talk to him about school, home, and football, but nothing I did would quell Marcus’s desire for attention from his classmates. He continued to do little academically, and his behavior did not improve. However, one day, late in the semester, I discovered why Dr. Payne so strongly emphasizes relationships.

At the end of the semester, Marcus came to me one morning. He shared some startling news with me: His girlfriend was pregnant. I calmly asked what they were going to do. He replied that he was not sure. This was a tough spot for me, but I knew Marcus came to me because he needed a man to talk to, someone to guide him.

I told him about my experience as a father. We talked about how anyone can be a dad, but it takes a real man to be a father. I didn’t give him ideas, nor did I tell him how I felt about the situation. I simply gave him my experience, discussed what he wanted and needed, and allowed him to make the decisions with his girlfriend.

When I walked away, I knew that all of my hard work had paid off. I had built a relationship with this student to the point where I became a person he could trust, a man he could come to in times of need. Yet, I wondered, had I done enough? What do we do as educators when faced with a difficult topic like Marcus’s situation? In retrospect, I am very glad that I could be there for this young man, and I hope my relationship with Marcus has helped him to grow into a positive adult.

Vincent Segalini of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, has been an educator for 13 years. He has taught at all levels, from elementary to high school, in a variety of socioeconomic settings. After beginning his career in New Hampshire at the elementary level, Segalini spent seven years at the middle school level teaching English, U.S. history, and special education. He has also served as an assistant principal and lead teacher. He has recently returned to the classroom as a high school English teacher. In the course of his career, Segalini has served as technology and science coordinator at the school and district level and as academic collaborative team leader in English and history.