“I remember them because the little one who clung to his father’s leg, terrified of being abandoned, needed desperately to be assured he wasn’t a rascal – he needed to know he was loveable.
“I remember them because they were grace to me. Years ago, these good people wrote these good words about me and for me, and the words sat neglected and mostly forgotten in a box all that time.
“I think that’s how our hearts work, too. People write good things on them, but until we’re ready to read and receive the grace they are trying to speak into us, we close up our heart like a book and pack it away.” – Kelly Flanagan
We live in such a broken, messy, scary world. And until I became a teacher, I never knew how much of that brokenness and messiness I would see up close. The kinds of things I see and hear that these precious children of mine have gone through breaks my heart. It makes me sick to my stomach.
I wish I could protect all of them from ever having to experience any of that again. I wish I could erase those bad memories that haunt them and make it hard for them to concentrate in school. I wish I could hold them in my arms and rock them into peace. I wish I could promise them that such things will never happen again.
But I can’t. I don’t have any control over what happens to them outside of school. I can’t change their past and I can’t change their present realities. I can’t change the way that some people look at their children – their own flesh and blood – and treat them as interruptions and unimportant commodities.
I can, however, give them a safe space for six hours of the day. I can be someone’s stability for a short time every day. I can be hope. I can be a warm greeting when they enter the building – the voice of love, reminding them that they are important today.
What’s hardest to do is to keep doing that when they show no visible signs of receiving it. It’s hardest to keep loving when they are defiant or push you away. It’s hardest to keep giving hope when they’re acting out or not working or being silly.
Because I also have grades and report cards and yeah, this assignment actually does have a deadline, so please try a little harder on it.
It’s hard to give them hope and love and also expect them to do well in their work and keep pushing them to get it done.
But a wise teacher knows two things: 1) they might not ever show that they’re receiving your love, but boy do they need it – and it is making a difference. And 2) Part of that love means helping them to be successful and holding them to high expectations, even when they resist.
There’s grace, for sure. There’s grace that recognizes that time when they might need to just let their brains rest for a few minutes. There’s grace that allows them to cool down and get their minds back to a level spot.
And there’s also the knowing when they’re ready to be led forward. Maybe today that looks like getting one sentence written down when the rest of the class has several paragraphs written. Maybe today that looks like at least you opened your book even when everybody else has the chapter finished. Maybe today that means you actually looked me in the eye when I spoke to you.
Maybe even the smallest victory means that a child knows he is safe and in a place where he can learn.
And maybe one day that child will look back and remember a feeling of being loved. Because they might forget everything you said, but they’ll remember your love, your smile, and the way you believed in them.
Because in a world spinning with adults who spit profanities at children’s ears, they need someone who whispers encouragement to them.
In a world where they get yelled at for the smallest thing, they need someone who notices their effort in ways big and small.
In a world where they might feel afraid of how their parents might come home at night – or if they’ll come home at all – they need to know the stability of a classroom where the lamp is always lit, the teacher always greets them in the morning, and always high-fives them on the way out the door.
And the teacher needs to know that the little hearts in his or her charge are soaking up the love more than he or she will realize. Especially when it seems the hardest to give.