When I first started teaching public school, I had no idea what I was getting into. I did not know how sweet the children could be. I did not know how difficult the children sometimes could be. I did not know about the huge amounts of paperwork. I did not know about the long hours of preparation. I did not know that a teacher could become so overwhelmed by preparation…that the teacher could easily forget to understand each child… to give each child the individual attention they needed. I did not know how to savor each moment spent with a child…how to make the best of each moment.
That first year…almost 20 years ago…I learned so much about me, about the children, about their needs…I learned so much that the professors never mentioned in my education classes…
Such as…how poverty can cause a child to be fearful and withdrawn.
Such as…the fact that hunger is real and it exists where you least expect it.
Such as…the school might be the very best and cleanest and prettiest place that they have ever been.
Such as…just how much the teacher can impact a class by simply cherishing their very presence.
Such as…that their family might be in the survival mode instead of the loving their child mode.
Cherish? Survive? Love? Teach? Protect? So many roles all at the same time. So many children. How in the world could I do it? Maybe I was not meant to teach…
AND THEN I MET JOHNNY!
Johnny was in my class for two different grade levels. The classes just turned out that way. It was a very large elementary school…well over 1,000 students. Some grade levels had seven or eight classrooms. It was just a lucky coincidence that I had Johnny for a second year. I was thrilled!
However, Johnny’s family life had changed in the two years since I had him in a lower grade level. His mother couldn’t come to the school very much. I never heard anything from the father. Johnny came to school hungry. If he arrived at school a little late and missed breakfast…he would cry. I would get someone to go to the cafeteria to find something for him. I started keeping snacks in my desk for just such an occasion.
Johnny did not have all of the supplies that he needed. This never happened when he was in my class before. Clearly, something was going on at the house. The parents would not show up for conferences. Johnny would not talk about what was wrong.
I concluded that the parents perhaps had lost their jobs. Or perhaps that one parent had lost a job. There were multiple children in one small house. Too many mouths to feed…too much worry to give much love to this boy… this boy who needed so much attention.
I looked for a way to reach Johnny. I knew that he was an excellent artist even as a younger child. I found him a drawing pad and special pencils. Johnny was instantly a brand new child. A happy child…at least…at school. The whole class was in awe of his obvious talent.
Johnny had a good year. Things seemed to get a bit better at his house. He started making it to school in time for breakfast. He started doing his homework. He started answering questions about stories from the basal reader. He started checking out library books and writing book reports. He started to be a strong leader. He started to grow up and to know that someone indeed did care…in fact, a lot of people cared besides just me. The music teacher, the P.E. teacher, the art teacher, the janitors, the principal…everyone cared about Johnny.
Actually, everyone cared about everyone at that particular school. And that is how one little boy learned about confidence and courage and friendship.
And one new teacher learned about the power of listening to a child, about the power of observing a child, about the power of caring about a child. And one teacher learned that she could do the same for all of the children in the class.
And it all started because of a drawing pad and a set of special pencils.