Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Unexpected Runner

Ah, Wednesday night.  Half way through the week, yet only 1 month into school.  I am exhausted.  My students are settling in and it has taken way more out of me than in years past.  I had my eye on a select few kids, knew they would require more from me and I was prepared to give them my all.  And I was blindsided by those deemed (by me) least likely to need me.  They, too, want more from me, need more from me, and would like their fair share.

But what is a fair share?  What constitutes doing my job and meeting their needs?  What is it that really reflects "excellent teaching"?  There are 35 kids on my roster.  There are 35 unique, wonderful, young, needy, impressionable, eager children that look to me each day and hope that this is the day I notice them.  And I try, I seek relationship, I grab every second of "connection" time I can find.  But there aren't enough seconds--let alone enough minutes to truly give them what they deserve from me.  And there are even less seconds to give to myself that which I deserve from me in order to be what these kids need me to be. 

The kids know what I need, I need tea.  They offer to get it for me.  They shove around each other to be the one to get to me first when I drain the last drop in my mug.  They ask me as they enter in the morning, "can I get your tea when you need it today?"  And the answer is, "yes", and the answer is, "please stop shoving each other", and the answer is, "I'm sorry, someone already asked me that today--maybe tomorrow."  So many kids want to be connected and helpful and noticed. 

And, surprisingly, the first kid to step up quietly and seek this connection was a child who seemed to have it all.  This child came in the first day well equipped--had every supply, had a new outfit for the first day of school, had a parental request for nightly homework all typed up.  This confident young man knew the ways of a school room, knew what a student's job was, and was eager to learn what he could in 5th grade.  I wrote him off as "set" and ready to be a student without guidance from me.  A kid that I knew could self-manage in a classroom of 35, a kid who I knew I would be asking to mentor other students.

But as we entered the 3rd week of school I began to see I was wrong.  This kid did have it "all"--the supplies, the clothes, the right attitude.  But he also lacked something big, adults in his life that cared enough.  He constantly sought approval from me.  He was fastidious and neat in his work and I wrote it off as an amazing ability to be a good student.  He was gracious and kind to others and I wrote it off as an amazing ability to socially interact.  And then it stopped and I commented that I was surprised at his behavior and less than perfect work.  He balked at my "reprimand" told me I hadn't ever seemed to care that he was neat or friendly.  And I hadn't commented on it, I hadn't complimented him, I hadn't praised his care in both schoolwork and relationships.  And he wanted me to notice and to care. 

So much so that he, himself, had written that beautifully typed letter asking for homework, because his parents wouldn't.  My student had done it.  He wanted so badly to have something to do in the evenings while his high school aged brother did his own homework and his parents played virtual reality games on their laptops.  He wanted homework in order to belong.  He wanted his teacher to provide something that proved she recognized his worth as a dedicated student and that also provided him with evening entertainment in an isolated house.

And so he got my tea.  He got my tea because he offered first.  And he still gets my tea, because he is so responsible he gets to train all the others how to get hot water from the filtered dispenser in the office as I need it.   This year there won't be a single tea runner, nor even a select few.  This year,  I want everyone to belong and everyone to feel needed.  As for the first kid, to me he's my true "Tea Runner," this year.  Because he taught me something new about teaching and loving and giving one's all: never assume you know what a kid brings--you have to seek the answer.