I am posting this in honor of the most noble profession I know of – Teaching. You not only teach our children, you parent them and mold them. Kudos to you all as you begin another adventure with another set of children.
Several years ago I taught seventh grade English. It was a wonderful school with wonderful kids and I loved it. Now, I don’t teach anymore, but still one of my favorite moments in my life happened in that classroom. I wrote it down as soon as I got home so I would never forget. Here it is from ‘the horse’s mouth’ all those years ago…
Possibly the best day of teaching EVER today. We had the Rachel’s Challenge assembly this afternoon. It was about the first victim in the Columbine School Shootings. The first part of the presentation was gut-wrenching: the actual 911 calls where you can hear shots in the background, the testimonials of children that experienced the day, the video of children being lifted down from broken second story windows – it was very powerful. The rest of the presentation was kind of blasé, but the most impressive part for me was when the presenter asked the kids “who here has lost someone very special in the last two years?” At first there were just a dozen hands, and then 30, and then it was a sea of hands. It took my breath away. So much loss in the room.
After the assembly the kids all came back to their 7th period classes. Great, I thought, won’t that be fun? My seventh period class is rambunctious to say the least. I love them all dearly, but they are a handful. I have four students particularly known for being hard to handle. Most teachers have one or two at any given time – I have all four of them at once…in the last period of the day.
It feels like every other phrase I say in that class is a reprimand: “So a simile is a metaphor – put your feet down – that uses like or as – Shhh. A metaphor – raise your hand, please – is a comparison of two unlikely things – stop touching him and turn around”. It’s tiring. Well, tiring, but reeeeeally rewarding when they actually do ‘get it’ and, like I said, I really do like these kids.
So, these are the kids that are coming to see me after this tear-jerker of an assembly. Some of the kids come in jumping up and down laughing about who was crying during the assembly. One boy comes in and starts hugging people sarcastically saying “I love you, man!” I thought, here we go!
Then someone comes in and says, “They’re all sitting in a circle in Ms. M’s room”.
What a brilliant idea! “Guys, I think we’ll do that too. Everybody come over here and sit on the floor.” We move to the back of the classroom and the kids throw themselves – literally – on the floor in some semblance of a circle.
I’m trying to get them settled down when P looks behind him and says, “What’s wrong, R?”
I look over and R is sitting at his desk, bawling. R has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. He is very sensitive and can get fixated on things; most recently Star Wars and Marilyn Monroe.
I go over and ask him what the matter is. He says, “Mrs. DeBoe, all my heroes have died.” The kids stop moving; the whole room stops.
I say, “R, why don’t you come over and sit with us and tell everybody who your heroes were.”
Immediately some boys start giving up their places for R to sit with them. They all scoot aside and the boys closest to him put hands on his shoulders – wow. M, across from R, has been chewing on his t-shirt during this exchange. P – the boy that has been through infinite seating arrangements to try to find a place where he won’t distract other people – looks over at M and says, “Get your shirt out of your mouth and pay attention to R.” I didn’t know whether to have a heart attack or applaud.
R tells us his heroes are Marilyn Monroe, Steve Irwin, Rachel Scott, Anne Frank, and a few others. He says it isn’t fair that they all died young. For the first time I can remember, everyone in the class is silent and listening – really listening. All eyes are on R. When he’s done, a few students mumble words of comfort. Then a student next to me – C – starts sharing about someone close to him that died recently – a grandmother.
I look around me and it’s all of my tough, distracted, fidgety boys in the circle and one girl. The other girls are sitting just outside of the circle at the desks; two of them with their arms around a third who is weeping quietly. The girls hold her but they are all listening, watching our little circle.
I say, “Raise your hand if you have lost someone special recently”. All hands reach tentatively for the air. “Would anybody like to talk about a person they have lost?”
Some timidly raise their hands and one by one we make our way around in turns. After just a few people they aren’t raising their hands anymore. They simply wait for someone to finish, pause for a moment of silence and then someone else begins. It was amazing. All of their walls and guards were down. Some of the boys started laying down on their backs to keep the tears from falling. It wasn’t long before they just stopped trying. J began handing out tissues and no one was too embarrassed to accept.
Many of my toughest, most difficult students cried in front of me and their classmates today. I felt honored. I think we all did. I told them so. I said, “Guys, I really appreciate you sharing with us today. I feel honored to know all of you”.
C, on my right, just looked up to me and said, “Thank you, Ms. DeBoe, for doing everything you do for us. I want you to know that you are important to me.”
Now, I’m not putting words in this kid’s mouth. He said that to me today. The boy who is practically allergic to vocabulary found the most beautiful words I could ever hope to hear from a student. If I hadn’t already been crying, that would have done it.
If I never have another rewarding day in teaching again – although I expect I will – it will have been enough that I got to have this day – this moment – with these kids.
Teachers, please remember that even if students can’t always find the words, you ARE important to them. Good luck in your new school year.