Today is my birthday. One that has stopped me in my tracks. Number 55. Wow. By today’s standards, I am “getting up there!”
It’s kind of weird, almost surreal actually, that the older I get, the more passionate, more energized (mostly!), more inspired I am by this important work I am fortunate to do; teaching kids. But the most important work I do each day is not reading, ‘riting, or ‘rithemetic. The most important aspect of my teacherly life is modeling kindness, empathy, and how to embrace diversity.
Students, yes, even fourth-grade students, watch the news. They hear their parents speak of “building the wall.” They know about shootings, racism, and other horrors in the world. My students, MY kids through the years, learn to cope with a parent being incarcerated, being in foster care, being abandoned by a parent, being poor, having parents who are deceased, being abused, and many other issues about which I know nothing. How can we, as educators, ignore these issues? We simply cannot.
So, we have class discussions in our daily morning circle. When a student says they are a level 0 because his/her dad got put in jail, we comfort that student. When we are sharing happy memories and a student says, “I can’t think of one,” we tell them we are sorry and we are here for them. We tell them we’ll make happy memories together this year! We give him/her hugs. Most of all, we love and encourage each other.
And we read stories. Lots of stories. Our current read aloud is Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. It’s about a girl named Samar who is friendless because she is Muslim. Students are looking at issues from perhaps a different viewpoint than they had previously. They are drawing parallels between their experiences and Samar’s. They are seeing themselves in the struggles of characters and through those realizations are becoming more empathetic.
It seems as I get older, my desire is stronger and I am even more driven to make this world a better place. As quoted by Nelson Mandela, “It is in your hands to create a better world for all who live in it.”
I am trying my best to make these precious years count.