There are events in life that prompt you to come to a screeching halt. And after that, in a vacuum of quiet, you are afforded a moment of contemplation. And after that moment, if you are lucky, you are awash in thanks.

Today I am thankful for the two parents I had growing up. Two parents who sometimes drove me nuts (no doubt the inverse is more than accurate as well), and asked questions, and showed up for parent/teacher conferences, and drove me to soccer practices, and girl scout meetings. Two parents who sat down every single night at the dinner table and spoke to me and my brother about our days. Two parents that threw birthday parties and kept up the masquerade of Santa Claus long after we already knew. Two parents who took us on summer vacations and showed up at games and who bought us back-to-school clothes and supplies.

As a teacher of eight years, by my best approximation, I have known somewhere in the vicinity of 900 students. 900 lives. Today, it's one particular life that stands out.

Imagine you are a teenager and have not one single adult in your life who cares about you and bothers to check up on you. Imagine that you've lost your mother to a life of drugs and mental health problems. Imagine that your father works six of seven days a week and doesn't come home until late. Some nights, drunk. Imagine you have no siblings, cousins, aunts or uncles with which to speak or confide in. You are sixteen and responsible for your entire life.

Imagine how lonely you would be.

I know this student. It's maddening. I asked Big Red how he would feel if I brought one sad case home with me for Thanksgiving. He was incredibly hesitant and I can understand why. I realize it's not my job to save students, but I can't help but want to. And I'm not talking about save in the educational sense. I'm talking about saving a kid from their own life. But it's bigger than just a trip home for Thanksgiving. The responsibility of crossing over from teaching life into personal life might be too big at the moment. Too dangerous. And this fear stops me.

So I do other things.

Check up on this particular pound puppy, give them my cell, ask if they're doing alright. Offer hugs and a quiet classroom at lunchtime if they want/need to talk.  There are so many pups I want to throw my arms around and bring home to sit at the dinner table with me and Big Red. I want to show them a warm home, a lovely dog, and a hot meal. I want to give them my couch to lay down on, a thick blanket to throw over their shoulders, a movie in the DVD player. A house filled with conversation, not silence.

Teaching can be just about teaching if that's all you allow. You can deliver content, grade your papers, enter marks into the computer and print out a report. But how can anyone ignore the human side of teaching? The sometimes screwed-up, tangled mess of beauty each kid is that walks through the classroom doors? How can I ignore that?  The simple truth is, I can't. As frustrating and infuriating as it may be, I consider getting to know these kids, hands down, THE BEST part of my job. It's cool if I can turn a skeptic onto poetry, but learning about their lives and finding out what drives them, what frightens them - what makes them people, is awesome. Unfortunately, this excavation and discovery often brings harsh truth. Realities of abandonment, drugs, death, discrimination and all the other horrors of the world.

Tonight, as I snuggle under an over-sized blanket on the big brown couch, Big Red on one end, Olive somewhere between us, I will be thankful for the stroke of a lucky life I've been given.
Christmas, last year at our house. I wish all my students had a picture like this they could call their own.


Dharma said...

I liked your thoughts today...
As someone who also did not have the best childhood, left home early, and had to find out what it meant to be an adult, I can remember what it was like to just have someone who seemed interested. Someone who was kind, someone who said positive things to me. I always remembered those people.
And although I agree that bringing home students for Thanksgiving would be innappropriate, you have the right idea that kindness, encouragment, and support goes a long way in someone's life who does not get these things.
It only takes one person sometimes to plant a seed of hope.

ilene. said...

Your words mean a lot, Dharma. Thanks.