Be the change, being a student, being a teacher, being me, Student dreams

The Least We Can Do

What follows is my ITEC Ignite…

On December 19th, 2013, our youngest daughter, Augustine, was born almost 10 weeks early.  She came so fast that there was no doctor in the room, just the nurse.  She came so fast that I now know what the big red emergency button in a hospital room does.  She came so fast that I did not see her.  I did not hold her.  She did not cry.  For the first minute of her life, I did not know if she was alive.  It wasn’t until my husband, Brandon, told me she was breathing that I think I took a breath.  That life started up again because for that longest minute of my life, with no wailing to calm me down, I had no idea if I was still the mother of three or the mother of four.

They whisked her away from me into their machines, into the equipment that would help her tiny body breathe, stay warm, and her heart keep beating.  See when babies are born that early they need help with everything.  And we can prepare all we want but it is not until they actually arrive and we see how much they need us that we realize that all of a sudden we have started a new journey, one that will take us down a perilous path where we might not be able to see our destination for a long time.

In the week leading up to her much too soon arrival, I was in the hospital waiting.  Willing my body to slow down.    We were not ready.  She was not ready.  One night a doctor from the NICU visited me to help me prepare for what would happen in case she came.  His words has stuck with me all of this time.

He said, “When she comes we will be ready.  We will have the machines that will help her breathe.  We will have the machines that will keep her warm.  We will monitor her heart and we will be by your side.  We will do everything in our power to keep her alive, to keep her safe, to help her no matter what.  While we can help her with her needs, we will not know about her brain.  We will not know what long term effects being born so early will have on her learning.  We will not know if her brain will be damaged,  we will not know until she grows, until she reaches her milestones.  We will not know what her future path will look like when it comes to learning but we will be ready.  We will be by her side because that is what we do.”  That is what we do…

As I held Augustine for the very first time more than 24 hours later, I held all of our dreams for her as well.  As we sat in the quiet, listening to the alarms and the beeps on her monitor, I knew that her future was now in my hands as well, and that all we could do now was our best.  That all we could do now was to be by her side and hope that her future teachers would see her for the miracle she is and not just a child who might have difficulties learning.


Every year as the new year awaits, our students arrive in all of their glory.  They arrive with all of their dreams, their hopes, and their needs.  They show up whether we are ready or not.  And so we prepare, we plan, we dream over the summer that this will be the year that we reach every single child we teach.

We do not pick who we teach.  We do not pick who shows up.  We do not pick who these kids are that we are supposed to have life-changing experiences with but instead we stand by our doors  like the Statue of Liberty and say; “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …”

We can prepare all we want as teachers.  We can create classrooms where most of our students will thrive.  We can plan for fictitious children and hope they will fit into the boxes we create.  Or we can teach the kids that come.  We can create classroom experiences that center on the kids that actually show up instead of the kids we hope to teach.  


We can open our classroom doors wide to make sure that every child that enters, that every child that shows up, know that with us they will learn, with us they will create, with us they will matter.  Because they do.   And we can ask those kids how we can be the types of teachers they need.  We can ask those kids how they would like to learn and then we can listen to their truths and become the teachers they need.

So we can take them all and we can love them all because that is the least we can do.  We work tirelessly every day so that those kids that become our kids know that with us they belong, that with us it does not matter what their start in life was because in here they have a chance at success.  That with us it does not matter whether they were born 10 weeks early, don’t have a good home life, or have never liked school.  That with us all that matters is that they showed up.


Augustine did not ask to be born early, she did not ask to have such a hard start in her life.  She did not ask to have harder path than our other kids.  The kids that come to us with their broken dreams and their battered hearts, didn’t ask for that either.  Didn’t ask to have a different life than so many others.  So our job is to teach.  Is to love.  Is to be by their side.

ITEC Ignite The Least We Can Do - Google Slides.clipular.png

This summer, as Augustine went to her NICU check up appointment, we heard the sweetest words.  “Your daughter is perfectly average…” and while her path is still unwinding and we are not in the clear just yet, we see hope with every word she learns, every task she accomplishes.  We see her for the miracle she truly is, a child that would not have lived not too many years ago.  So may we all see the miracle that is the child that enters our schools.  May we all know just how lucky we are to teach these kids, even when our days are long and our lesson plans are broken.  Even when we feel we are not enough, may we still try.

As teachers, we were never promised it would be easy.  We were never promised that our jobs would be effortless.  Or that our hearts would stay protected.  But we were told that it would be worth it.  That this may be one of the hardest jobs and yet also the most rewarding.  So every day as we welcome the kids, make sure it is every child we welcome, not just the easy ones, the ones that barely need us.  Make sure your classroom is a place for any child to succeed.  No matter their start in life.  Because much like the NICU doctor told me almost three years ago; we are ready, we are here, and we will stay here until you no longer need us.  It is the very least we can do…

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out January, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.


5 thoughts on “The Least We Can Do”

  1. Thank you so much, Pernille…your words touched my heart…as a parent who miscarried at 6 months, never getting a chance to hold that baby, although my husband did (we are blessed to have 3 other beautiful children, but there will always be an ache in my heart for the one who isn’t here)…and as a former educator who taught kindergarten in the 60’s and 70’s when you could still hold kids close to your heart, literarily…and reassure them you loved them and were there for them.
    I love your inclusive attitude…your students are fortunate…I wish we could bottle you and feed you to every educator in the nation.;)

  2. Hi Pernille,
    Thank you for sharing the beautiful story of your daughter’s birth. I can relate, because I had quadruplets born at 30 weeks. They are now twelve years old, but every day I remember that as you said, not so many years ago, they would not have survived. They are a living miracle, and it is so important that we view each student in that same brilliant light.
    Thank you for being a hopeful beacon for teachers and students.

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