She was nine, tall for her age, with shoulder length brown hair and parents who deeply cared about her, but not each other. She looked to me as if I had all of the answers, as if, in our classroom, everything that was happening outside would be forgotten, would not hurt as much as it did.
He was nine as well, dark brown hair, the oldest in his family and already labeled the broken one. The one that could not be trusted. The one that did not care. The one that heard his parents fight about his intellect even when they said they believed in him to his face.
He was ten. Tiny for his age but solid muscle, hands clenched in fists most of the day waiting for the next threat, for the next person that would see him as an easy target, waiting to prove them wrong. He hugged my pregnant belly whenever he could and whispered his words of advice to the baby. “Be strong baby, be kind baby, come soon baby.” I cried the day he left.
He was eleven and had already experienced the biggest loss he could. As he placed the picture of his mother into my hands and told me it was the most precious item he owned, I sat in silence. How could a child who had lost so much still trust me with so much? How could he show up and want to discuss books with me when it seemed so irrelevant in the face of it all?
How could any child, who has faced trauma, possibly find relevance in what we do all day? In writing, in reading, in speaking well?
And yet he did, and yet they did. They came to class, on the first day and on the last, hoping that in this classroom, that within our school they would be seen. They would be heard. They would be loved, not just on the days where everything went well, but also on the days where it didn’t. On the days where they pushed as hard as they could just to see if we still stood there when they were done.
And I think of my own kids. How different they all are. How none of them learn in the same way. How all of them have their own loud personalities. How all of them make me hold my breath as they enter new phases in their lives and I hope that wherever they go, they are met with open arms, because underneath all of the crazy, underneath all of the yelling, underneath all of the sometimes struggle, there are these kids that will love their teachers like only they can. Underneath all of the things that perhaps do not fit into what a typical learner looks like, there is this kid that just wants to be liked and taught in a way that makes sense for them. That will tell me to buy their teacher flowers, and please get the pink ones, because pink is her favorite color. That will ask me how they can possibly go on to the next grade level because that means leaving this teacher behind. That worry that perhaps next year they will not like school as much, and I hold my breath and hope they will.
Those kids with their stories. Those kids with their broken hearts. Those kids with their stoic facades. Those kids with seemingly perfect lives that still come to us with such a chip on their polished shoulders. Those kids that dare us to prove them wrong, that tell us they hate school, that they hate us. Those kids who tell us they don’t need us and for a brief moment we believe them because after all, we are only human, and there is only one of use and so many of us, and perhaps, we are not the teacher that will make a difference. And perhaps I am a terrible teacher. And perhaps I have no idea what I am doing.
Those kids that tell us so many times that everything is stupid that we actually believe them and we are left with nothing but the fragments of what we thought made a great teacher. Those are the kids that will push us to the very last day. Who may fight us until the very last minute. Who will continue to push, to yell, to tell us how little they care, just to see how we will react. And so for them, we stand tall. For them, we keep trying. For them, we believe. Because sometimes being a teacher simply means having more faith in the child than the child has in themselves. And so that is my plan as the days count down. To believe. To try. To love. And to always remind myself that while I may not be enough right now, I am the teacher they have and so for that very reason alone, I have to keep believing I might be.
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7 thoughts on “To the Very Last Day”
Pernille….thank you for this reminding all of us why we teach…I so needed to hear this again…towards the end of the year these children test us and your insight reminds us all of why we teach in the first place…we love and care about the children..their antics are simply their defense mechanism after facing a cruel and harsh world…we are their safe place, their home for some of them…..thanks for taking the time to articulate this and sharing with the rest of us.
Thank you for this honest, heart-felt reflection and for these wonderful final lines: “And to always remind myself that while I may not be enough right now now, I am the teacher they have and so for that very reason alone, I have to keep believing I might be.”
Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.
I read this after you told that story at lunch. Hard not to cry with my students in the room. Kitty
Yes, we keep believing and we must keep trying … yet, sometimes it is so hard when they ‘continue to push, to yell, to tell us how little they care, just to see how we will react’. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Alex
It’s all about remembering what is important. Why we chose this profession. The kids and their stories! Thanks for the eloquent reminder.