Sunday, June 18, 2006

What Matters

In the midst of completing report cards, and dealing with some tricky parent situations, and the chaos that was my classroom after having a substitute teacher for a day, I was reminded about what is really important in this world.

See, I’m a teacher, and in the last few weeks of school, a teacher is juggling way too many balls in the air. It’s easy to be mired in assessments, staff changes, parent issues, student behaviors, and end of the year expectations. But when you lose what matters most, everything changes.

When I found out about a former student’s death I was just coming out of a long meeting, and heading to class. When my colleague told me that one of my former students had died at the age of 14, I burst into tears. It was her face, youthful and beautiful, that came rushing in to my mind. Immediately it was a few years ago, and she ran beside me as part of my after school running club, excitedly laughing, telling stories, and being goofy.

Later that day a student asked to have lunch with me. I had parent calls to return; meetings to set up, papers to grade and report cards to write, but that didn’t matter. I thought of that former student, and said yes. You see, what slammed into my mind with the senseless death of a young woman was that yes, students need to learn how to read, do math, write and other content areas. But what really matters in the lives of young people, all people, is relationships. Feeling valued, listened to, important. They say that adolescents need just one adult, one adult that they can turn to, that they can trust. I know many people were working hard to connect with my former student. For me, her death made me pull out of my thick educational ostrich hole and actually talk more with students. It made me walk away from the work that was piling up on my desk and really listen to what they have to say.

Later that night I held my own daughter in my arms. I wept as I told her no matter what; I’d love her until the day I died. And if for some reason she couldn’t come to me, I prayed she’d find another adult who would listen to her, love her and help her get what she needs. To me, that means everything.

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