The Gift of Hope – FHMS Substitute Teacher Surprises Student with Gift

Posted on 01/04/2018
The Gift of Hope – FHMS Substitute Teacher Surprises Student with Gift

Every Francis Howell School District teacher strives to find the best in each student, and that goes for substitute teachers as well. A teacher’s goal is to reach every student – to help find what a child can offer his or her community, and the world. It is a teacher’s mission to find a student’s gifts.

“Anybody can be an artist,” said Matt Burgoyne, an eighth grader at Francis Howell Middle School. “It’s not about whether people say you’re good or not; it’s what YOU see.”

What some people saw was a young man often in trouble. What a teacher saw was an artist just waiting for a chance to express himself in a positive way. Just before Christmas break, Burgoyne was called down to the office, a call he admitted growing used to. “I was actually sick that day and ready to go home, and (FHMS Administrative Intern Erin Thurston) pulled me back in. Both my mom and I thought I was in trouble again, and then …” And then he saw a gift sitting on the table, to his surprise. “I was thinking, ‘What? That’s not a detention slip.’”

Artwork by Matt BurgoyneThe present was from a substitute teacher, Dee Kuhlo, someone he had just recently met. “I didn’t know what to say,” Burgoyne recalled. He did remember thinking, “Wow, that was someone I didn’t really even know. We were just talking for a minute, and then … this happened.”

Kuhlo, with more than 40 years of teaching experience, subs for this particular reason – to make a difference. “One thing I’ve learned in working with alternative education kids,” she said, “is that they’re typically right-brained, and gifted with creative abilities that we bypass in the regular classroom because we’re not exactly set up for that.” The only way to find out what Burgoyne’s abilities were was to initiate a dialogue. Kuhlo found they had a mutual connection since both had spent some time at Francis Howell Union. “You want to build a bridge relationship; once that bridge is built … we can educate, guide, and nurture. And Matt really opened up to me once we made that connection.”

After lamenting the tribulations of his life, Kuhlo told him how some of her previous students had overcome their troubles. She told him, “They did not let their circumstances or their past define who they were going to be in their future. And he grabbed that.” Burgoyne quickly pulled out his cell phone to show Kuhlo his artwork. “It was unbelievable! It’s got dimension and definition and depth and shading.” In the excitement, he began showing her more. Kuhlo left that day knowing he needed the tools to keep at it. “That’s why I was placed in that classroom that day with that child.”

“People have always told me I was good at art,” Burgoyne said, “and at first I never really saw it. But I started drawing more after I got a sketchbook.” His wide range of subjects include birds, flowers, and skulls (the latter two sometimes sketched together in a Mexican Dia de Los Muertos holiday motif).

The charcoal pencils and other art tools will be put to good use. “It means a lot, honestly,” Burgoyne said. “I admit I have some trust issues – either I like you or I don’t. I don’t know why I’m like that, but I am. This reminded me that there is a lot of good in people.” He confided that this reopened his eyes to the positive in all of us. When asked what his first work with the new set will be, he said, “I want to do something for the teacher; I’m not sure just yet what it will be.”

Kuhlo doesn’t take her opportunity to help kids for granted. “What we have to do as educators is to build a bridge between now and the future,” she said. “We don’t create that future; they do. So we have to have a bridge where we stand in the gap for them, help them see their gifts, talents, and abilities, and then nurture. What they choose to do with that is their journey.”

And that’s exactly how a teacher accomplishes their mission – they help bring the best out of kids, whether the kids know they’re trying or not. We don’t know whether Burgoyne will pursue an art career. He is also an aspiring musician and songwriter who plays piano and guitar. The true gift wasn’t the art tools, however. The gift given by Kuhlo – and by all teachers in FHSD – is the gift of hope and encouragement to our kids.

Dee Kuhlo believes in Matt Burgoyne. And sometimes that’s all a student needs to inspire them toward success. “You have to live life intentionally – you have to want to look inside others and serve them, to see what their need is. When people start looking around to see where they can fill a need, they forgot about their own. And in essence that filled their own need – love, giving, serving. If we all can live intentionally, with eyes on service, we can help change the world.”

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