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Insignificance

Recently, a classroom full of children waiting for transition between classes was doing what ‘a classroom full of children’ does naturally during classroom down-time: goofing around and making general mayhem. Thinking fast on her feet, my colleague- the interim teacher- picked up a whiteboard marker and put a word on the board, hoping to grab their attention: INSIGNIFICANT. She put down the marker, turned and faced the students and then asked: “Who feels this?” The classroom immediately became silent so that you could hear a pin drop. The numerous faces immediately turned serious and all goofing stopped. One by one the students took in the weight of that word. The meaning. And silently, almost every single one of them raised their hands in affirmation. Almost every one of the kids in that classroom had felt, at one time or another, insignificant. The disruptive ones. The quiet ones. The loud ones. The disenfranchised ones. The privileged ones. The smart ones. The academically challenged. The financially stable. The economically disadvantaged ones. The impoverished. Both the ones in name-brand clothing as well as the ones in someone else’s hand-me-downs. The smart-alecks and the serious. The class clowns and the introverts. Every one. Every single one of them. They all had felt at one point in time in their young lives, insignificant. The teacher then erased two little letters found in front of the word. She took away ‘in’ and left the letters- S-I-G-N-I-F-I-C-A-N-T. She then turned and faced the classroom of children who were at this moment a captive audience. And she asked them: Who makes you feel significant? Who is it that sees your heart? Sees your soul? Who loves you? Who gets you? Who understands? Who sees past your hoodie, your Reeboks, your faded jeans? Your greasy hair? Your amateur attempts at eye-shadow and lip-gloss? Who knows what goes on inside that head of yours? Who knows what you’re all about? Who digs you? WHO KNOWS YOU ARE NOT INVISIBLE? And hands went up slowly to share their story. Kids I know. Kids I care about. And I know this because one of those kids was my very own child. Hands went up all over the place. But not all of them. Not all the hands went up. Not everybody felt significant. How can this be? For we believe, do we not: that every student needs to know they are significant. As teachers, we experience a daily tug-of-war being played out. We are being asked and expected to increasingly go above and beyond the call. This pertaining to every aspect of our job: as it relates to curricular delivery, progress monitoring, assessment, reporting, evaluation, lesson planning and development, testing. The list of academically related expectations could certainly go on. Add to these demands the pull on our heartstrings to act as advocates interceding on behalf of our least advantaged kids. More than ever before, we teachers are acting in parental ways for the children that seemingly need our demonstrative care the most: feeding them, clothing them, looking after hygiene, interceding on their behalf for supports with both inside and outside agencies to the system- holding their hearts and hands gently and empathically when they need a physical sign of nurturing love. We are being asked a lot. And we are doing better with the children who desperately need our care, better than ever before. And so we should be. Teaching is a caring profession, first and foremost. But in thinking about care and who fundamentally needs and requires that care, I have been challenged to think beyond the most critical areas of need to what and whom might also be needing our attention. Leading me to ask the question: what of the ones who fall in between? In other words, how are we enabling all children inside our schools and classrooms to feel significant, valued and seen inside our four walls? What of the ones who are neither demanding nor critically in need of physical and academic supports, thus unable to grab our attention? What of the quiet, easy ones who are seemingly invisible to our teacher radar? Please understand me. I firmly and unequivocally believe that we must fiercely, lovingly and carefully advocate for our students with the greatest critical needs, truly ‘seeing’ the behaviorally challenging students we’ve been given- the louder, disruptive ones- as deserving of our attention…so as to convey to them the TRUTH of their significance. These students must daily get affirmation of their significance so as to make that difference in their lives. And may we never neglect to do the same for the ones we know who need special adaptive supports in place so that they are given an equal chance.  So that they are seen as potential and possibility- these students too must be affirmed as significant and valued and worthy. But in addressing areas of urgent need, may we not fail to give that same care to the quieter, less vocal and demonstrative ones who just might feel they are invisible to our teacher radar. Who just might feel they are invisible.  Period. I will be the first to say that quiet and introverted doesn’t necessarily mean anything is going wrong.  Neither does loud and crazy. But these personality traits are not also meant to exhibit a unchallenged sense that everything is okay. Sometimes quiet can be as much a cry for attention as a scream. Each student needs us.  Every student needs to know they are valued and seen as significant.  Even the quiet ones. Fundamentally, what this blog is about is care. Care is what matters to me. Knowing that ALL my students believe in their worth as a human being. Knowing that they ALL understand their significance. Knowing that they ALL come to believe in their inherent value as individuals and members of the wider community. This is what matters. I want every one of my students to know that I SEE THEM.  I want every one of them to know that I see them. And encouraging me in this endeavor is what I am seeing out there, beyond my classroom. I am seeing that there are conversations taking place in other classrooms, in staff rooms, in private corners of our schools. There are conversations happening on-line and in virtual chat-rooms, in communities of sharing and through social media. Conversations being initiated through the news media, both written and spoken word. There is more dialogue than ever before about teaching as a caring profession and what that means. It is time to fully face the fact that teachers are more than educators with an academic mandate. We are equally care-givers. Nurturing guides. Empathic listeners. Compassionate educators. And while we have done a very good job of teaching to the academic requirements of our job, along with reaching out to the populations of students in our classrooms that have great behavioral and physical needs, may we never fail to merely give this care which we bring to our profession only to one or two segments of our school population. We must give care and attention to all of our students.  We must see and value ALL our students as worthy of knowing their incredible consequence and place in this world. Each one is significant. Each one must be seen. This is our calling.

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9 thoughts on “Insignificance

  1. THIS. So good. So challenging. As an educator, I find myself most naturally and easily letting the mid-students, the quiet ones, go unnoticed, untended. Thank you for this call. I’ve been thinking about it alot in light of the blog post floating around right now about “that kid.” How much do we care for the demanding while letting the passive go unseen? Thank you.

  2. What a NEEDED and beautiful blog! I wish more teachers and educational systems thought like you. Insignificance is not an easy pie to swallow. I hope this blog goes viral.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughts and words- I really appreciate this. Please check out my latest blog called “Dear Teachers” for more of the same (only this time from a mother’s perspective). Gratitude to you for your kind accolades!

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