I am walking down the hall, getting ready to head for home, having arrived at the end of yet another day substituting in the school system. As a new teacher, I am young and eager- believing that I have the world by the tail. Believing that I can really make a difference. As I round the bend in the corridor, making my way towards the stairs, I can hear his angry voice even before I see him. A veteran teacher, yelling at a student. I wonder at all the commotion, but soon find myself right in the midst of the upheaval as the pair- teacher and student- are right in my line of vision. Right in my path.
I immediately feel uncomfortable. This is awkward, listening in on a rant. As I am the only one privy to the exchange, I quickly become aware that the teacher is railing on the student for holding up the school buses. The student looks quietly at his shoes as he scuffles along, even slower now that this altercation has held him up- all while I try to pretend that I am invisible. And yet, the teacher will not let up, not stop the steady stream of verbal abuses that flow freely from his mouth as he expresses his disgust for this student’s tardiness.
There is no mistaking the loathing in this teacher’s voice. I can tell, from these briefest of moments as I awkwardly manoeuvre my way out of the unfolding scene and out of the school: this teacher does not seem to like this boy. His tone, revulsion and absolute disgust indicate such to me, an observer.
I wonder how the boy feels.
Over the years, I have thought about this boy. Thought on this situation as a whole. Wondered what I, an inexperienced, young female teacher should have done. Could have done. But more than this, I have thought about that boy. Wondered whatever became of him.
I wonder, do we ever pause to think about him? That little boy (girl?) that puts us as teachers in a tailspin each and every day. Do we stop to think about what makes him tick? Think about what he cares about? Have we ever stopped to contemplate his developing person, complete with those infuriating boyish ways? I wonder. Do we take time to sensitively consider that boy who drives the teachers mad, makes their hair turn prematurely grey. I wonder if we ever stopped to think about who he really is underneath all the bad words, infuriating manners, cold stares. I wonder, have we ever stopped to really think about him- as an individual? Lingered momentarily to see him for the person he really is inside all that childhood clutter?
Do we know that he collects hockey cards by the dozen? That he loves to watch his Grampie fix stuff in the old back shop? Do we know that he has a subscription to Lego magazine? That he never uses a pattern, his mind too bright for that. Do we know these things?
Do we know how very much he worries about being put on the spot? That he fears being asked questions? Fears being called out each and every day for things he knows he shouldn’t do but can’t help doing anyway? Do we know? Know that he goes home and thinks about his days too- wonders why life has to be so hard.
Do we know?
When I was first expecting our oldest child, I remember wondering what it would be like to be a parent. Wondered what it would be like to have a child, hold a child, feed a child. Raise a child. What would that child look like? Be like? Act like? Would I love them at first sight? Would I be able to do this? My reasons for becoming a parent were varied, but largely I became a mom so that I could open my heart to love another human being. Little did I ever realize how deep that love would grow.
In that same line of thinking, as I sat in the university lecture hall for my first class of the Bachelor of Education program, I remember the professor that day talking to us about our reasons for becoming a teacher. Ideals like making a difference and leaving a legacy were certainly discussed, but I don’t remember any talk about care and love ever being raised as important indicators of teaching excellence. My reasons for becoming a teacher- for choosing the teaching profession were also varied, but largely I became a teacher for more self-serving purposes than those reasons for why I became a mother.
Little did I realize back then that I would one day see caring as the ultimate criterion for how I carried out my life’s work.
The children and young people that come to us each morning with such varied, interesting, colorful lives- complete with behaviour issues, medical concerns, mental and psychological complications, social and emotional hang-ups: these are people. People that someone loves very deeply, somewhere. And yet, when they come to us in the school system, somewhere along the line it has been decided that when educating incoming teachers, we are off the hook when it comes to learning how to care for our students. Caring does not play prominently in the educational configuration of upcoming teachers. We either learn it along the way or we forgo it all together.
Recently, a young teacher confided in me that they were surprised at how much caring was involved in being a teacher:
“They don’t teach you this stuff in the Education Program,” was what the individual said.
And while that might be true, the fact of the matter is that most of our students need to feel a sense of our caring interest and engagement from us as teachers so as to move to the next level, academics. While some students might learn something from a teacher they don’t think likes them, many will not. It’s like anything in life, we are willing to give our best to the ones we believe see that best in us.
And until we start to see people for who they are- unique, complicated, beautiful human beings, our world is just going to continue to live out the same old problems. People who are unloved as children often become unloving adults. People who are uncared for as children often become uncaring adults. People who experience a deficit of compassion, grace, kindness, mercy and forgiveness as children- while some might overcome the obstacles, many go on to exhibit the same lack of such as adults. We learn from those who model for us. When that example is a good one, the opportunity for success is greater.
Isn’t it time we started seeing everyone for the possibility and potential for good they have as individuals? Especially our children?
We must use the opportunities we’ve been given to care for one another- in spite of our frailties, issues, problems, behaviors and less than savory actions. People are people, and children will be children. But those same children who might drive us senile on any given day (this goes for our own flesh and blood too!) still need to have the best start possible given to them by the teachers entrusted with their care. Teachers who empathically use the opportunities they’ve been given to show those children they are worth it.
Because they are.