Teaching is hard for me this year.
I have a wonderful bunch of kids, but the reality of increased class sizes paired with decreased aide support leaves me feeling like I’m stretched impossibly thin. I’m not giving my students all they need, all they deserve. Many days I go home feeling defeated, feeling like I hardly even got to talk to some of my kids, let alone teach them.
At night I lay awake thinking of all the holes I need to fill in their understanding of words and numbers. But the holes are numerous and I am only one.
I’m giving my all this year and it’s not enough.
That is the searing truth that rumbles in the pit of my stomach and snaps my eyelids up like window shades at 2:13 in the morning.
Today was one of those days. I woke in the small hours of the morning, trying to solve this puzzle, to put the pieces together in a new way that creates a better picture. The solution eluded me, slipped away as the moon and sun changed guard.
I went to work exhausted. I had a good day with my kids, they all put forth their best effort and so did I. We are loving the nearness of Christmas and simultaneously feeling the pangs of being away from each other for two and a half weeks.
After school, I sat in my room overwhelmed by all the little tasks that had to be accomplished before I could even think about big things like lesson plans for January.
And then a familiar face poked his head in my door.
I knew this face when he was a first grader in my class a few years ago. This face, this little boy, will have my heart forever. This was the face of the boy who belted out his solo in our class musical and brought the house down. He peeked in and I hugged him tight, noticing how he comes up to my armpits, remembering how he used to barely come up to my waist. Time is such a quick bird, flying away with little children and returning them to me as adolescents.
I asked him if he’d come by to help. Many are the children who pop in after school wanting to help, wanting a little extra time to talk. He said he’d be happy to help and I sent him with a note to his after school care teacher. He returned a minute later with the okay from his teacher and with another boy in tow. This boy has the most expressive eyes. The second boy asked if he could help, too. Suddenly all those little tasks that were stacked up against me didn’t seem so daunting. The second boy returned with the okay from his after school care teacher and when he returned, he brought with him a third boy. The third boy was another former student, a boy with a sensitive spirit and impish dimples. These three boys set about sharpening pencils, filing, cleaning my boards, washing dishes, and while they worked, they talked.
They talked about all the things we did when they were in first grade. About the Mr. Bear Crime Scene Investigation unit. About the leprechaun who left tiny green footprints all over our desks and turned our milk green. About the pleasure of choosing a book out of the Santa sack. About our 100th day Olympics. About the piles and piles of books we’d written.
“We really had some great times together, didn’t we?” I smiled at them. “I’d forgotten about a lot of those things.”
And then the boy who will always have my heart said “Maybe we should write you a list of all the fun things we did so you’ll remember them and remember to do them with your class.”
“I’d like that. I’d like that a lot.” And that’s the truth. Because somewhere this year I’ve let myself only see my failures. I’d lost sight of some of the magic, some of the sparkle of teaching young children.
Half an hour later, all the little jobs were finished. As were my lesson plans for the next month. I hugged these three angel boys and told them that their help had been the best Christmas gift. Then the boy who’d belted out a solo so many years ago told me he’d see me tomorrow at the school sing-a-long because he was in the choir.
“I always knew you were a singer.” I grinned.
“I remember you telling me that.” he replied. And in that moment, we were both so full, so content with memories of our year together.
Before they left, one boy asked if he could have one of the pencils they’d sharpened. And so I paid them each with a brand new pencil, such a small price to pay for the important lessons they taught me today.