We Have to Tell Them Again and Again

“I thought you knew
you were beautiful and fair
your bright eyes and hair
but now I see that no one knows that
about himself but must be told
and retold until it takes hold
because I think anything can be killed
after a while, especially beauty”
Peter Meinke

At the end of week three of school and this is where I am, anxious and exhausted. Not knowing if I can do it. Not knowing if I am going to reach some of my toughest kids. I always forget what it is like. I forget how hard it is, how emotionally and mentally taxing it is to reach out to the kids who aggressively push you away. I take it personally. It hurts when they mock me, ignore me, interrupt me constantly and groan when I am speaking.

I have a handful of those kids this year.

I see these kids in the hallway from previous years, the ones who seemed defiant and angry, and they go out of their way to smile and wave. Sometimes they even go in for the hug. I remind myself how hard it was to get to that place. How hard we had to work to know and trust each other. But we did get there.

I expect ALL my kids to do hard things. I know what I am asking them to do is hard and it is harder for some then others. I expect them to take risks. I expect them to think. I push them to give their best. Doing hard things can be scary and they don’t know yet that they can trust me. So they push me away.

These new kids they don’t believe me when I tell them they are smart and kind. They don’t know that they can do hard things. So I have to tell them and tell them again. I have to show them and show them again. They deserve to know that they can do hard things. They need to know that now so they can carry it with them for the rest of their lives.

And when they push me away I can’t take it personally. I have to let them know that no matter how hard they push I will not give up on them. I have to remind myself that it will take time. I have to do the hard work of being patient and kind in the face of a child who does not yet know the beauty they have inside of them.

What is School About?

I am always so anxious about the first day of school. I feel like I am going on a first date with each of my new students all at the same time. What if they don’t like me? What if they don’t listen to my stories? What if they ignore me? But it’s even more then that because they are depending on me. It is my job to take care of not only their little bodies but their hearts and their minds.

And then a friend asked me to imagine how the kids feel. And so I tried to remember being a small and confused 2nd grader. I remembered wondering when lunch would ever come and really having to go to the bathroom but being afraid to ask. I remembered not knowing how to tell time and not knowing if I would ever get to go home. I remembered that there were so many things I was not suppose to do. I remembered a feeling of helplessness and fear.

This week I thought of my 2nd grade self and with each choice and each decision I made on those first days I imagined how the kids were feeling and realized that so much of the way we do school never takes into account how the kids feel. We, the adults, have an agenda. We need to establish our structures, our routines, our schedules. We need to get these students from point A to point B in an orderly way. We need to make sure we are on time so we don’t muck up the workings of the system. We need to cover the curriculum. They need to read for X number of minutes and write for X number of minutes. Math is from 11:05-12:05 and lunch isn’t until 12:55 despite their rumbling tummies.

I looked at my schedule and I looked at those little beings and thought about how they were feeling. I decided to make school about them. I listened to their voices and watched their faces. When they were hungry I pulled out a box of cereal. We traipsed to the bathroom so many times. I acknowledged every boo boo and wiggly tooth. I honored restless bodies. I said yes as often as I could. I empathized when they just wanted to go home.

Everything seemed to take twice as long as it needed to. I watched minute after minute of instructional time slip away. A small nagging voice in the back of my head kept saying “You aren’t getting anything done!”

And then each night I went home and thought about the day. Thought about the kids. Thought about the connections we had made through smiles, hugs, tears and squabbles. I thought about morning smiles and end of day tired faces. And I realized that we were accomplishing everything. We were learning to take care of each other. We were learning to belong to each other.

All that other stuff, it’s time will come. And we will be ready.