Even as he’s just settling into a career in education, English teacher Levi Boren knows who he wants to be and how to show up when he enters his classroom each morning. He wanted to be the teacher he needed when he was a junior at Shawnee High School and discovered his father had passed.
Small Moments, Big Impressions
I got you. I care. It’s all right.
Levi shares that after the event, “I flopped around like a fish out of water.” He adds that this turned his senior year into a ‘make-it-or-break-it year.’ Not only did Levi recognize the mountain he needed to climb to graduate, but his teachers also realized it, rallying around him to provide much-needed support.
“I wouldn’t have graduated from high school if it wasn’t for some of my teachers. And it wasn’t just the teachers; it was also the staff. I would have stopped coming. I wouldn’t have done the work. The high school secretary saved me from bad days on countless occasions through her empathy,” says Levi.
During Levi’s senior year of high school, he formulated a plan. He aimed to take what he defines as the next step by getting accepted into Shawnee Community College. He pushed himself to look forward to the future. Initially, he wanted to be a psychiatrist. But after completing an associate degree from Shawnee, Levi moved to Indianapolis to live with his cousin, Sean. Levi considers Sean a brother and a lifeline: a consistent and positive presence.
While in Indianapolis, Levi enrolled in Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. But along the way, he lost interest in the subject. He decided to stay with Sean in Indianapolis, remaining at IUPUI to pursue a law degree.
But tragedy struck again three weeks into law school, this time with his health. Levi caught a flesh-eating bacterium that quickly spread throughout his system, and he spent ten days in the hospital, receiving two surgeries and a blood transfusion.
Levi was required to pause law school but was provided the ability to start from scratch the following year. With nothing to do during the Spring, he accepted a temporary position teaching high school English at Meridian. While he assumed the work would be a placeholder, he never looked back.
As Levi and I talk, he shares a simple observation. On his way to our meeting, he observed a student with a bag of potato chips, a simple luxury likely a rarity in the student’s life. As someone who notices pure-hearted generosity, Levi paused to observe the student share his bag of chips with countless others. Levi smiles as he reports that if one kid is lucky enough to have a bag of chips in Meridian, they all have chips.
He says, “If my students have a bad day and don’t want to work, it’s not the end of the world. We can get it done tomorrow. It’s more important to let them know that, hey, I got you. I care. It’s all right. This assignment is not life or death. We can accomplish what we need and still give you space to breathe. That’s what those teachers gave me.”
When Levi says that he considers the children of Meridian ‘the most resilient kids I’ve ever seen in my life,” the air surrounding his words feels heavy with an unspoken understanding. Levi knows resilience in ways I can’t imagine.
Levi was lucky enough to be supported by teachers and secretaries who rallied around him and a cousin who had made such a lasting impact that Levi struggles to view him as anything less than a brother. At that moment, I genuinely understand Levi’s metaphor and how valuable it is to share your bag of potato chips with others. As I look at Levi, I see a teacher who has likely never kept a chip for himself.