I was looking for a blog entry to post when I came across this one that I had written on my last day teaching kindergarten in the inner city. I wrote it and for some reason it got lost in the shuffle. So as the new school year begins and I am still laid off from official teaching work, I post this entry about leaving those 26 wonderfully maddening and amazing kindergarteners.
Why am I so surprised at the tears? I loved my students from day one. The first time I saw their wide, beautiful faces, shining and radiant, I loved them. The first time I saw the depth of their pain and suffering, I loved them. The first time I saw their hunger for food, for positive touch and attention, I loved them. The first time I had to restrain one of them—on the ground—the child screaming and flailing–my heart burned with love. When I first saw them flinch to absorb a hit when I simply lifted my hand to pat their shoulder, I loved them.
I think of the ones (5 out the 26) whose fathers are in prison. I think of one little boy who told me as if he were talking about the weather, “My dad got in a fight last. Now he’s in jail. He had a gun.” I think of the little girl who told me her grandmother was shot and killed a couple months earlier. I think of the ones whose mothers are 18 years old. I think of the dad who came in to beat his son right there in the classroom after I had called to tell him his son was acting up (I never called him again). I think of one little girl who got committed to a mental institution for trying to set her own house on fire and kill her baby brother. I think of the ones who ran around the room throwing punches and chairs. I think of the ones who told me they had tigers and monsters living in their rooms. I think of the little girl who came into school every day announcing it was her birthday, and every day I would look surprised and wish her a happy birthday.
These little ones, whom so many of the other teachers called spoiled, are far from selfish in the usual sense of the word—they are radiant givers of everything they had—they gave it all—wore it all on their sleeves, gave it all in their voices and wide, frightened, excited eyes.
From the depth of their suffering they could be wonderfully kind, tender, and protective of one another. I think of the ones whose older siblings came to pick them up at the end of the day and how they would hug each other with such relief at the sight of each other. I think of the ones who wanted to help pass out paper so badly they’d knock down three other kids in the process. I think of the ones who would fall asleep at the table after we got back from lunch. I always let them sleep, even when chastised by other teachers.
I know I helped these kids. I can rejoice in the good I have done. And I can feel grateful for the love and support I received to help me get through this year. I remember my mentor Lefty asking when I first started, “Did you ask anyone to pray for you and your students?” I hadn’t. So I did, and things got better in terms of my ability to hold these children, have patience with them, and meet their needs. I even taught them EFT, calling the meridian points Magic Buttons. I will remember always how these children called me daddy and even sometimes, grandpa.
Now the classroom is empty. And their voices echo in the woodwork, the ceiling, the hum of the lights, my heart. And I need to let them go. I did the best I could for eight months, and now they are gone. I can’t save them from their suffering. I know I shared their suffering these last few months, I helped comfort them, I helped them to bear it, but yet, they need to carry it on their own little, bird-like hearts, and my own heart aches at the thought. My heart seethes with a fire to protect them, to hold them tightly against the storm, to gather them in and sing to them, wipe their tears with my tears. And yet, I need to let them go. But then my heart rails at the thought and whispers, “Why? Why do you need to let them go?” “It hurts too much,” I say. “That’s why you need to hold on to them,” my heart says, “remember this as you go out into the world. There is unspeakable suffering in the world, and there is also a myriad of ways to love and sooth the broken hearted.”
I want to leave you with a little story that captures the spirit of our classroom by the end of the year. A little boy had come up to me first thing in the morning asking if I thought there was more than one God. As we discussed our various ideas on the subject (we agreed there was only one but that It had lots of different names) another student shouted out from the back of the room: “God is everywhere! Right Teacher? God’s everywhere, right?” I turned and walked towards him. “Yes,” I said, “I think God is everywhere. Even here.” And I pointed to his heart. His face turned upwards towards the sky and slowly spread with a huge smile. “That’s right,” he beamed, nodding his head, “that’s right. In here.” And he began strutting around the room, telling the other kids, “God’s in here. God’s in here.” And as he thumped himself in the chest, another student started singing “This Little Light of Mine (our morning song).” And then they all started singing and dancing, with this little boy right in the center, spinning until he fell down laughing, still thumping his tender, racing, and glorious heart.
Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog