Safe Havens and Soft Landings

You know, I have had many people tell me over the years that they could never be a teacher.  Could never do my job. That they don’t have what it takes. That it is too demanding in terms of the behaviors and the complicated issues children present. Too hard on the nerves. Too taxing on the stress levels. Never mind the additional stressful academic responsibilities that come with the job.

Honestly, it isn’t the easiest profession. It isn’t the easiest calling to be drawn to. It hasn’t been the smoothest sailing I’ve ever known. There are many challenging days, many hurdles to jump. Many deep waters to traverse.  There are many moments when I wonder myself. That all because: it is hard being there for people, day in and day out.   Hard staying the course when the ride gets bumpy.  And truth be told, the ride is very treacherous.  And all because there are so many variables.  So many children with so many stories.  For in our classrooms, there are children who have seen things I will never know about in my lifetime. Who have heard things I will never hear. Watched things transpire that I can only envision in my worst nightmares. Who have lived lives in their short years that I will never live.

It isn’t easy being a kid at the best of times. Try being one at the worst of times.

There are days when these same children come into the classroom and they just your push buttons. They try your patience and test your resolve. They act out, cry, push, scream, whine, slap, punch and spit. They holler and run. They pull things off the walls and shove things on the floor. There are days when you just want to give up and walk out the door.

There are certainly days when you wonder why you ever thought teaching was a good idea in the first place.

But sometimes, there are days when everything comes together for you.  When the pieces of the puzzle just FIT. When there is clarity and everything murky is finally clear. Days when something happens and a door is opened, a view is granted into the inner sanctum of a child’s private life. And you see for the very first time why it is, this child is angry. Is hurting. Why it is this child is wounded, frustrated, broken and scared. And all of the moments that happened before- when you thought seriously about pulling out your hair and giving up the fight- those moments are all but forgotten.  All but a memory. Because you’ve just seen a child for who they truly are for the very first time.

Seen that their anger is just a disguise for pain.
Seen that their screaming hollers are sometimes a cry for help.
Seen that the physical aggression they exhibit is sometimes a response to what they know as familiar.
Seen that their hurtful words are just the everyday vernacular of their private world.

And in those moments of clarity, you realize: I am a safe haven. I am a lighthouse- a beacon of hope. I am a soft landing for this child. And I am such so that when they come to school, when they come to my classroom- they know they are loved.  Know that they are protected, accepted, wanted, appreciated, valued, enjoyed, liked and seen. They know they don’t have to be afraid. Don’t have to fear.

Because here…they are safe.

That is all I could ever really hope for as a teacher- to be a safe haven and a soft landing for my students to fall on. A person they know who will be there for them, each day and every day… through all the moments, both shining and otherwise.  There to be a caring, loving presence in their lives.  Unwavering through the storms.

As a teacher, it’s all I ever really needed to be.

{photo retrieved from crislorenzana.wordpress.com}

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Joy found through a child’s eyes…

It is lunch time, and I am tidying up around the classroom when a little lady, let’s call her S., walks over to me to report that M., which stands for Monkey, hit her.  Punched her, to be exact.  M. is now doing what little boys do after they have made a serious mistake: he is off in another area of the classroom playing, oblivious to afore-mentioned S. who is now sporting a sad, little face.  I call M. over, and I ask him if he has committed the offence.

Yes, he has.  There are no excuses made.  And, he is not quite sure why he did it, but he and I both know that consequences must be paid.  M. heads over to his seat for a time-out, while I multi-task and all the while, think of what course of action to take next.  M. has done this many times before, and he is always repentant when the time comes for consequences.  But as of yet, he has never really shown improvement.  The same behaviours are exhibited on a daily basis, regardless of how many times “he’s been told.”

M. is now sitting on a chair at his little desk, which is a small feat, in and of itself.  I allow the given time for isolation, and I then walk over, crouch down until I am at eye level, and I say this:

M., when you hit S. like that, you are telling her, “I don’t care about you.  You mean nothing to me.  Your feelings don’t count for anything.”  You are telling S. that she doesn’t matter.  Look at S. over there playing.  Do you really want your body to say that to her?  Does S. really not matter to you at all?”

M. looks at me with the most beautiful brown eyes God could make for a little boy, and he sadly shakes his head, no.  He looks down at his lap.  He looks contrite.

But, I have seen this look before, remember.

I continue.

                If you don’t want your body to tell S. that she doesn’t matter, then you cannot hit S. like that ever again.  Because when you do, you are telling her that she means nothing to you.  And, if you want to be friends with S., then you have to treat her the way you want to be treated yourself.  That is the way to make a friend.

A pause.  A little boy looks very repentant.

                How do you feel about this? Do you feel sorry?

A head moves slowly up and down.

Then you must say you are sorry, and try to do something nice for S. to show her that you care.

An apology ensues, and friendship is tentatively restored to a little boy and a little girl.  And, life in the classroom returns to its busy pace as preparations are made for an early dismissal.  Children are busy putting shoes in cubbies, stuffing loose bits of paper into backpacks and finding outside clothes to wear for our daily trek to the bus.

I am urging children to hurry along, when I see M. come over to S. at her desk.  “Can I help you put your chair up,” he asks, completely unprovoked by me to do her this favour.  Yes, she answers, still not sure what to expect from one who just sucker punched her.

He gently lifts her chair, and places it on her desk.  Both, walk to the door, and all is forgiven.

It is the kindness that seals the apology, and I must admit that I really did not expect it.  Not from him.  My expectations were set quite low, and he shows this side to me only rarely.  But today, he has risen to the challenge and shown me that little boys can learn hard lessons about respect, honor and integrity, even at the very young age of five.  And even at this very young age, there is time to un-learn bad habits and reverse the cycle that leads to abuse.  With careful attention, there is hope for change.  Even for him.

Especially for him.