We never know - What is life really like outside the classroom for each child? Or - How long will this child be in my class, under my care? Or - What will this child remember about me when they grow up and memories of school are either still helping them or still hurting them?
As a person of faith, I consider all of the above to be God's privileged information . . . things so far above my pay grade as a human being, it will be impossible for me to ever have access. And if I could have access, would I really want it? Could I deal with it well? Probably not.
So just think, teachers - our students bring everything they are and have heard and seen into our classrooms . . . onto our stages . . . and generally do the best they can. When they're not doing their best, we can count on the fact that there's more going on than we're aware of.
Every year as I sit in front of kindergarten and 1st grade classes and sing lullabies, I remember my own mother singing those same songs to me. I'm sure at least a few of my students (maybe more) only hear songs like this from me. What a gift. What a responsibility - to be the look and sound of a childhood ritual involving safety and love and peace.
I was a lonely elementary school student - an odd kid out. I wasn't athletic or academically talented. I was struggling with ADD and probably seemed like I didn't care about what was going on in class. But my music teacher, who many children from Shannondale Elementary School will still remember, was attentive and kind . . . she was watching out for kids like me.
Mrs. Beeler, you changed my life.
She told my mother about my ability to sound out things I'd heard on the radio at the piano, and she encouraged my parents to seek out piano lessons. She helped us discover my first piano teacher.
Ms. Gina, you changed my life.
I had other teachers who changed my life. I'll never forget the first time I saw one of my high school band directors conduct - it was the most beautiful, heart felt conducting I'd ever seen.
Mr. Jackson, you changed my life.
Because I was a kid and was seeing and hearing all of these good things, I knew what to look for . . . and what to walk away from. I knew how to pursue music and how to improve myself because these teachers took the time to see me and because they brought their best to the classroom.
I was a kid with a good home life - I had two parents and they had steady work. My sister and I didn't go without. We were well looked after within our family. I would still consider the work of these teachers to be a mercy in my life . . . a huge source of hope and an impetus for positive change. I can only imagine what a difference these teachers made (and are still making) in the lives of children who came to school searching for stability.
There's so much mystery surrounding our students and the time we'll get to spend with them. So much we'll never get to know or understand. We've got to pay attention to them.
We have to listen to them.
We're only human, I know, but it's very important that we give our best whenever possible.
Because the unthinkable is sometimes a reality, we have to use what time we have to do the most good we can. None of us like to acknowledge it, but we should: Sometimes our kids will go through things we can do nothing to stop. Sometimes they'll experience things we can't protect them from. In the face of all that, our time with them and the tone of our interaction is even more important.
My classroom isn't the "joy department" for fun. It's the "joy department" because I have no idea where else my kids are encountering joy or how often other grown ups are making it a priority for them. Fortunately, I see a huge amount of joy all over our school building. But beyond that - who knows?
I can give them music, and I can give them my true attention . . . my real care. It is still not enough. But it's something.
Teachers, I would love to pray for you and for your students. If you would like for me to do that, feel free to comment or to send me a message. The work you're doing is worth while and will change the lives of many generations of people. Don't lose heart.