As you may, or may not, recall, I have a new position this year and although I work in two schools and am in and out of classrooms frequently, I don't have my own class to teach. I enjoy the work I'm doing with the teachers, administrators, and curriculum, and feel that what I do benefits the teachers and students in my schools. I have to admit though, I do sometimes miss having my own little class of babies.
Yesterday, I got out of a meeting early, drove to my former school, and did what I've been desperately needing to do for a while: see and hug my kids. If you don't think absence makes the heart grow fonder, go back to an elementary school you used to teach at and watch their little faces light up. Even students who, by their own admission, were exceedingly glad to get out of my class, gave me hugs and asked when I'd be back.
I think about all my former students and hope they're happy and successful, but the reason I so badly need to see these students from last year is that there is one less of them that I'm able to hug. In my class year, there was a little sweet and feisty girl. She was with us for the first few months of the school year, and her classmates and I were sad to see her go when she transferred to a nearby school.
Last week, that little girl took her own life. Everyone who knew her is heartbroken. I spent the day I found out falling apart- and she was only in my life for a few months. I know for her family, friends, and those at her school that the pain is unbearable. It made me sick to my stomach to imagine her feeling so desperate that she felt she had no other choice.
I keep thinking back to the time she was in my class and to all of the students who I have been so blessed to teach over the years. I used to worry that as a new teacher, I was too concerned with my students as whole and should have been more focused on just the bare academics to get them where they needed to be. Once, after receiving some student test results that weren't what I expected, I confided this in another teacher, crying over how I had failed my students.
What she told me was exceedingly kind and changed my whole mindset of myself as a teacher: "We can work one the test scores. You've taught them the content, you just need to make them take the test seriously. You are a good teacher and your students love being in your class. Everyday, your students go home knowing you love them."
And, honestly, despite all the hoopla about testing and rigor and 21st century skills, that's the most important thing to me- showing my students that they are loved. I knew it the day she told me and last week, it rang truer to me than ever. As educators, as parents, as just human beings, showing love and kindness is the most important thing we can do for any child. I don't think that shows weakness and I know it doesn't run counter to a child's success. (For what it's worth, my kids' test scores went up dramatically at their next test.) I have never regretted the time I took to listen to a child that needed me or for a important class discussion that ran into math time. I wish I had kept up longer each year with student journals where my babies wrote me little notes that sometimes brought me to tears. I'm not just talking about sweetness and sunshine though. Sometimes that love has to be tough love, but being firm and consistent is also a great kindness to a child who needs a guiding hand.
As silly as I might sound to quote J.K. Rowling at a time like this, there is a line that Dumbledore tells Harry that has stuck me with ever since:
Just like your mother, you’re unfailingly kind. A trait people never fail to undervalue, I’m afraid.
Unfailing kind. I'd like to be more like that. I know for a fact that it is undervalued, but the value to one little child might be all that matters.