One of my careers is that of being a school teacher. While I no longer teach full time with a single class for the entire year, I get to interact now instead with many more children each and every school year. Instead of teaching a single class the entire year with only 25-30 children, I now get to know 1200+, most of them by name. I see them grow from fresh faced kindergartners to 5th graders that think they are on top of the world and full of attitude when headed for middle school. In doing this, I receive a benefit that is more precious than any other that could be offered…I get to see the world through their eyes that aren’t clouded yet with all the weight of the world. Those eyes have seen things at young ages and have worries these days that children just shouldn’t have to cope with or even know about, yet they are still full of hope.
Over the years, I’ve written about a few of my special students. While I genuinely enjoy the majority of the kids, there are some that manage to get closer to me than others and will sneak right into your heart. I have one child as a student who is the son of a pilot I fly with. Ben is cute as a button and has had a crush on me since he was five. His face literally lights up when he sees me in his classroom or in the hall. He never fails to run up and squeeze me in a bear hug with a huge smile on his face. It always brightens my day. He’s one of many that I have a special relationship with throughout the school.
As I walk down the hall and constantly hear someone telling me hello, giving me a hug or a wave, I never fail to smile. They want to tell me their latest news or ask me a question. They make me laugh and at times my heart breaks for them when they are hurting or sad. It never fails to amaze me when I get to the end of a long day and feel like I have fussed all day at some of the same students, when they still go out of the door hugging me or with a smile on their face.
Children respect consistency. They know who loves them. They know who wants to be there and who doesn’t, even when you’ve had to give them extra work or time out of recess. They also know they need boundaries. While they don’t always like the rules they must follow, they are glad those rules are there. Most grown-ups could take some lessons from their kids in that regard.
There are the kids in the EIP classes (early intervention), that have varying degrees of challenges in learning. These children have a huge span of personalities and abilities. They are not physically challenged, but have home situations or learning delays that make it trying for them to sit in school and process information as some others do. These kids will worm their way into your heart and while you hope like holy heck they will be successes in life, you know that some have the odds stacked against them. Regardless of that fact, you have to realize that you are affecting this part of their life and hope it has some impact, even if it’s a small one. These kids are usually charmers and sweet and usually precocious. They also are brutally honest and will make you feel like Superwoman when they share their thoughts or emotions with you.
There are also many kids that are physically challenged as well as being learning delayed. These children are generally bright, always have a smile on their faces and try their best to learn and behave. With inclusion becoming more and more the norm, these kids are looked upon by the other students as just one more friend in their class. Most of the time their disability becomes something that is not even noticed.
Now, FINALLY the reason for writing today. (I can get a bit wordy when it’s about something I’m passionate about…teaching and children are near or at the top of the list) I was in a 1st grade EIP class today, one of my favorite classes. There is a student in this particular class that I have spent a lot of time with over the past 2 years. His name is Ade. He’s a precious little boy that last year came in shy and bewildered and pretty much stayed that way all year. This year has seen him begin to come out of his shell. He smiles much more. He’s finally “getting it” in the classroom, his work has improved more than I can tell you…it’s starting to click for him. He talked my ear off today, something he never would have done last year beyond random words here and there.
Ade is moving to Illinois tomorrow. The move came unexpectedly and for some reason, finding out yesterday that this would be his last day here in our school made me sad. While I was glad to get to teach and spend his last day with him…when his mom and brothers came to pick him up, it hit me harder than most. Children move in and out of the school with increasing frequency in our current fluid society, but this one got through to me and I’m not sure I even realized it until I knew he was leaving. I do have his phone # and address in Illinois to keep in touch with him, and will.
While I was losing one student today, I met a brand new one that transferred into the school last week. Jamal is in the same class. He’s a bright kid and has a huge smile. He whizzed through his work ahead of everyone else and I had to wonder why he had been placed in the EIPclass. I soon found out. Everyone was working. Jamal had finished and had asked to write a story on the back of his paper while everyone else finished. I told him that would be great. I watched as he wrote for about 10 minutes, his face intense with concentration. He came up to me in the back of the room wanting to read his masterpiece to me. He started to read the words expressing how much he missed his mother. The sentences told of the special things mom did for him and how he wishes she were here.
Not yet knowing his history, I thought perhaps mom might travel or that he had a family that had experienced divorce. I wasn’t going to ask Jamal, but when he finished reading, he looked up at me and more words starting spilling out. He was very matter of fact, but you knew those words had been bottled up for a while. He told me of a sibling that had died, I didn’t ask how. He told me that “they” had taken his sister and him out of their home and away from their mom to keep them safe. He paused, waiting for my response. Quite frankly, for someone that is rarely at a loss for words, I had to stop and think. I tried to reassure him that things would work out as they should. I told him how very glad I am that he’s with us now and how glad I am that he and his sister are indeed safe. I felt like I was bumbling through my rambling words, but he was listening. As I finished all I could say, a smile burst out on his face and he hugged me. This child just met me today and already he gave ME a gift.
I’m very aware of the problems with education. In fact, if you crossed my path, you’d hear me regularly giving my opinion of what we’re doing to our kids in the name of “progress” both from a teacher stand point and as a parent. That isn’t something I can change right now, it requires time and legislation and common sense that I’m not sure some powers that be even have. Regardless of this though, I can make a difference and try to do just that in my little corner of the world with the children I have the privilege of interacting with.
So, I do what I can.
I try to show up each day I’m at school excited to be there. I give the children parts of myself. I tell them stories about my kids and my life and make myself a little more human. I let them know about teachers I had that changed my life or gave me little tricks to make learning easier that have stayed with me. I smile and outright laugh often and easily. I make a fool of myself in assemblies or at dances…I don’t take myself so seriously and it breaks through to them. I wear funky outfits or jewelry that gives them something to talk about and smile.
I listen when they are excited or upset, knowing that sometimes no one else in their life takes the time. I always hug anyone back that gives me one. My classes are loud and interactive and they LEARN and remember. I thoroughly enjoy what I’m doing, I’m good at it and it’s my niche. When you find something that makes you happy, it shows…whether professionally or personally. I’m not the perfect teacher, I have many faults, but one of them will never be that I don’t care and give them my best even when I’m tired. My Connecticut Yankee would tell you that my face absolutely lights up when I talk about “my” kids.
What those kids give to me however, is absolutely priceless…and they do it without even trying..just by being themselves.