So, yesterday, as a follow up to our “help” discussion, I wrote the above words on the board, imploring my kids to make my day by asking me for help and giving me feedback. And, for fun, when they did, I would dramatically place my hand on my heart, breathe in deeply, and exhale, “I am full, my heart is full. You need me.” And for the rest of the morning, the theatrics continued as we wandered along the path, doing the day’s work. My heart full. My smile wide. My eyes bright. A day made brilliant by the shining suns in my midst. But my day did not last, and just like that my heart emptied, my smile fell down, and my eyes dulled, for sometimes an ask for help is more than we can bear, more than should be, more than we are. Here’s the story.
She was standing just inside my door. It was the beginning of the passing period between 3rd and 4th. A former student, now a junior, her eyes were downcast, and immediately I was transported back to her freshmen year when life dealt her some tougher cards, a hand that she did not play well, a hand which ultimately ended in her expulsion. And it was with an “oh-what-now-kiddo” worry that I approached her as I sought her downcast eyes, making contact as I asked what was up. This was our conversation.
Her: Sy, you know that store-sign thingy that’s down in the office, the one that says you have food?
Me: Yeah. (thinking crap, I don’t have any food at the moment)
Her: Well (her eyes finding the floor again), I don’t get free-and-reduced anymore, and mom doesn’t get paid until Friday, and we’re outta food, and…
Me: I have an apple I can part with, but it’s down in the staff room, and I can probably round up some other stuff, too…
Her: It’s just for today. Anything would be great.
Me: Come back after 4th, kiddo, and I will have something for you.
Her: Thanks, Sy.
What’s disturbing is that I’m not all that relieved that it was hunger instead of trouble that brought her to my door. Of course I am thankful that she is not in trouble, but I am unsettled, deeply unsettled, that she–and she is not alone–has to come and ask for food. FOR FOOD. I wonder if it feels like begging. I wonder about what this must do to her young mind, her spirit. Of course, I can never know. But, I should never have to know. Kids shouldn’t be hungry ever. EVER. And at school, their only hunger should be for knowledge. But that is simply, in too many situations, not the reality. We do have hungry kids, kids who struggle through their days with worries bigger than homework, fears larger than a mark on a report card. In our country.
I so want to get political right now. I so want to point to the trivial matters upon which we heap ideological hate and waste when we have hungry kids. I wonder how many kids we could feed on the money from failed presidential campaigns this election year? But I’ll keep my wondering to myself, else I poke the political bear. I’ll move on to bigger, more noble things. I’ll move on to teachers.
My story is neither unique nor special. Happens all the time. And teachers live it every day. We help kids in ways that transcend test scores, in ways that exceed the scope of our curricula, in ways that we did not prepare for in college. It’s what we do. We have hearts bigger than our bank accounts. We have dreams bigger than our realities. We do it because we know no other way. I am proud to work with so many under-appreciated heroes, heroes that helped me help a young lady in need yesterday.
After settling my seniors 4th period, I scrambled from room-to-room seeking extra food to put together a lunch. And graciously, selflessly, Mr. Martin, Ms. Tamura, and Ms. Alderete contributed to the cause, and we put together a pretty decent lunch, which I put in a lunch sack along with the note below. Lucky to work, to serve with so many great people.
And the story ends. Nothing overly dramatic or climactic. She came to get her lunch, thanked me humbly, and went on her way. I don’t know if she ate last night. I don’t know if she will ask for help today. I don’t know if she will stay out of trouble and stay in school all year. I don’t know who the next kid will be. But I do know there will be a next kid. And I do know that we’ll help. And I do know that teaching is more than curriculum. So much more.
Happy Thursday, all.