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Last Thursday, in the middle of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week, I received an email from the mother of a student I’d had. Her son was halfway through his eighth grade year, and she wanted me to know that he was thriving. We had had our ups and downs, this child and I, when he lived in Room 202. But here he was, happily on his way to high school, and she just wanted to say: “Thank you for your patience then and now and for the kind and caring way you guided him through middle school!”
I was so moved by four words in her email – patience, kind, caring, and guided. Nowhere did she speak of rigor, or high standards, or grades, or testing skills (although I would like to think that these are somehow gently folded into the mix of our every day sixth grade lives). I read and reread that line many times last week; they anchored me as I was struggling through some difficult issues swirling around me. They brought me right back to the reasons I teach in the first place.
Children need patience, even though this is the hardest thing to be consistent with in the hustle and bustle of a school day. It is hard to be patient when a child is wrestling with a concept or an answer while the rest of the class gets restless. It is hard to be patient when a child turns in work that you know was rushed through, perhaps at the breakfast table, and not their best effort. It is hard to be patient when a child gets lost in a daydream about that awesome sledding adventure, or a worry about why a certain friend seems suddenly cold. It is hard to be patient when our kids live so in the moment, and sometimes need us to step into that moment, too.
Kind – well, our kids just know when this is genuine. Sometimes kindness is just a reassuring pat when the day is off to a bad start, sometimes it’s that extra five minutes at the end of a long day to make sure it ends on a good note, and sometimes it’s letting something slide – giving a kid a break when no one else is inclined to. We teachers seem to switch our kindness on and off depending on how we might be feeling that particular day, but kindness is consistent. Our kids know this, and they need this.
I think caring for our kids goes hand in hand with believing in them and wanting to guide them. It’s taking the long view about the kids in our classrooms, and the willingness to want to be part of what will shape them into fulfilled, productive young people. It’s putting the lesson of the day aside to react to that incident in the hall, that event in the news, that mean word spoken during a group project. It’s wanting to be part of a child’s life in a meaningful way, beyond just the curriculum. It’s having faith that every kid can find their way, in their own time, with just a bit of shared wisdom (every once in a while) to light the path ahead.
Four words. I let those four words reach deep into my heart last week, grateful that this particular parent chose to include these particular words to thank me, that particular week.