When I pulled up to the school on that late summer day, there were two familiar faces waiting in front of it. Students I had had two years prior who were now waiting for the bus that would take them to their seventh-grade orientation.
I stopped to chat with them, and before I could stop myself, I asked the question you’re not supposed to ask kids of trauma – “How’s your summer been?”
Clearly, I had forgotten how to do the teacher thing over the summer – because I already knew what the answer was going to be.
He shrugged his shoulders and gave me a half-grin.
I should have known better. I should have remembered how two years ago this same kid put his head down on the desk a few days before school got out and shed a few tears – even though he did such a good job of keeping up a brave face every other day of the school year. Facing summer was not something he was looking forward to.
And then I asked him if he was excited for school to start – if he was excited for middle school?? Then he grinned even more and shook his head a definite no.
And my heart ached with the weight of his story and so many others like his – because I didn’t know where they’d end up. If they’d end up with teachers who loved them and believed in them despite all the challenges. If they would keep being brave and keep showing up and fighting for something better.
Because the truth is, once they enter your heart, they stay forever. Especially the ones that need you the most. And that hit me again when I saw those two, and I realized that my summer break was over.
It was time to start sharing in their stories again.
Time to start fighting the hard battles again – not with them, but alongside of them.
Time to start listening to them and finding out how I could support them.
Time to embrace them and give them all I could while I was their teacher during the day.
When I was considering becoming a teacher, I had no idea just how deeply it would change my life. I thought about having to take my work home – papers to grade and lessons to plan – and how that sounded exhausting, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted a job that I had to take home.
I had no idea that I would take home so much more than that. That I would face stories that would affect me more deeply than anything else. That I would carry their faces, their words, and their love deeply within me long after the school day was over. That I would come to find out that teaching them about life would be more important than teaching them academics (even though, don’t worry, I still teach them that, too).
Nobody told me that in my teacher prep program. And certainly no one trained me how to work with kids of trauma and how they just want to be loved more than anything.
I look at my wall and the pictures of the five classes that I’ve been blessed to have in my first several years of teaching. And my eyes fall on the ones who aren’t smiling – or who are, but have some fear and sadness lingering in their eyes.
Their stories still cling to my heart.
Yes, they blew out – some of them yelled at me, some of them ran from me, some of them threw things. And some of them didn’t, but they revealed pieces of their stories to me, little by little throughout the year.
And when they did – or when they flashed a genuine smile my way – or when they finally gave me a hug – or when they accomplished something they thought they couldn’t, my heart couldn’t help but burst with love for them.
Because the teaching prep program also didn’t tell you about those moments – that those moments make everything else worth it. That a small human who has been through so much hurt in their short lives would choose to trust you, love you, and learn from you – it’s one of the most rewarding things I will ever experience.
And so, I get ready to start a new year with new stories to learn and tell. I get ready to face hard things and not run away from them, even when they hurt. I get ready to do my labor of love and work towards those rare, shining moments. I get ready to enter into their worlds and teach them that there is so much opportunity ahead of them.
As I do so, I hope I remember this quote that I penned today on a notecard next to my desk:
“We are not here to opt out of the darkness. This is the place you’ve been called to shine.” (Sarah Bessey)
The darkness might seem strong. But Christ’s love is always stronger, and it always burns brighter. He’s asked me to shine it in this one little classroom of mine, no matter how hard it gets.
I pray that I might be faithful to Him so that others might see Him through me.