The child walked quietly into my elementary school classroom.
His eyes were cast downward. His smile was absent. His walk was slow and hesitant. His smile was absent. Other children walked in laughing and talking and skipping. Most everyone had something to say…”Good Morning, Good Morning”, “Want to hear something funny?”, “Hey teacher…look at my new backpack! I found it at a garage sale! Do you love it?”, “Today is pizza day in the cafeteria. Is it lunchtime yet?” and on and on.
Yes…most everyone had something to say and all of the children greeted me with a smile. All smiled except for one small, fragile boy. He sat down at his table and put his head down on his folded arms. He was asleep in less than 30 seconds. I tried to wake him up for circle time, for the main lesson of the day, for the teacher read-aloud. Clearly exhausted.
He evidently came to school to get some peace and quiet. I never consider my classroom to be particularly quiet and sometimes I don’t consider it particularly peaceful. I do know that my classroom is filled with love and care…love from me to the children, from the children to me…love and care is always my goal.
I rarely know right away about a child’s life away from school. I listen, learn and discern information in bits and pieces for a few weeks. I would eventually know what type of home life they bring to school. With this sad little boy, I knew that things were not right. Something was missing. Please, please…help me find the missing part to the puzzle.
I asked the mother and step-father to come in for a meeting. I sent a note home in his daily folder. I called repeatedly. I left messages. The number was quickly disconnected. A relative picked him up in the afternoon. She would barely talk to me. She muttered a quick greeting with the same look of despair as the child.
Everyday, I spent extra time with the child while his classmates were busy with projects. Little by little, he started talking to me.
He was hungry. He usually did not eat at night. The breakfast and lunch provided at our school were mostly his only means of sustenance. He did not have a bed. He slept on a couple of blankets on the floor. Sometimes a sibling would take the blankets away from him.
His mother had two jobs. I was glad that she was working, but worried about the care he was receiving or obviously not receiving. I doubted that she had time to talk with me. I began trying to get the step-father to talk with me. No luck. Collaboration? Not from these parents.
A few days after the child began talking to me, he said his leg hurt, his tummy hurt. The story came out in a blur of words. I immediately talked with all of the appropriate people at my elementary school and beyond my school. The counselor talked with the child. The sad truth was indeed the really sad truth. Things were very wrong at his house.
Action was taken very quickly by the appropriate agency. He was sent to foster care in another school district that very day. I hope he found love and support. I hope he found a warm and comfortable bed. I hope he found a good dinner waiting for him every evening.
I do not know what happened to him after his placement. I hope that he learned to smile. I hope that his mother learned that she needs to collaborate with the teacher and the school and anyone else who would help her. Fear keeps so many parents from seeking assistance. If only she really knew how much effort we put into finding a bit of a future for her child.
I certainly did not find a chance at a better life for him all by myself. It took a group of people working together. And it all started because a group of educators listened to his quiet voice. That is why I believe that it takes a truly committed village to raise a child.
YEARS AND YEARS HAVE PASSED. I STILL REMEMBER THAT SMALL VOICE.