Today was probably the hardest day yet of being a teacher. I have never left the school crying or so discouraged that I didn't want to go back. But today I left thinking that my heart was going to break. The day started out like any other. I arrived at school a little before 7. It's always just me and the janitor for a good hour. I love that time of morning because I am able to finish my last preparations in peace and quiet As 8:45 draws near I am scurrying around making sure pencils are sharpened and everything is in its place because I know that once the school day starts there is no break. I want to give all of my attention to those sweet children. I finish up just as the first few trickle in. They walk in and they see that the snowmen that we made have been bowling--oh the things that snowmen do at night. Their excitement bubbles over and they are quick to believe. They act as though they haven't seen me in years and pour out kind and generous greetings. They are talking over each other because the things that they did last night were the most significant things ever to take place in the history of the world and it is their job to inform me because they know I care--painted blocks for family home evening, macaroni and cheese for dinner, reading the favorite book before bed, falling on the ice, losing a tooth. I remind those that have forgotten to get their folders out to do so before the bell rings and they quickly react because they want to please, they want to be obedient. They sit at the rug for a few minutes, visiting with friends and reading books. I love watching them. I love their interactions. I love their innocence. The joy that they express when they find sight words like the, of or from fills the room. The bell rings and they quickly put their books on the shelf and sit "railroad crossing" at the rug. They want to earn their "train tickets." We go over the calendar and do sharing bags. They love when they get to be spotlighted. They love themselves just as much as they love others. We talk about animals that live in the zoo because we are talking about the letter Z. We discuss where those animals come from. Somehow we get on the subject of Africa. One little one raises his hand and says, "I have been to Africa! I went there when I went to Sea World and Disneyland!" Everyone believes him and he is now the coolest person in the classroom for the next .5 seconds until another comment is made. They yearn to share and learn. While I sneak over to the computer to quickly submit attendance I turn on their new favorite song: Tootie-Ta. They crack up as they sing and dance with each other. I can't even join them for the last part of the song because I am laughing so hard. We line up at the door and see how fast we can be standing like lowercase Ls. They make it in 3 seconds. We take a bathroom break and play silent games in the hall until everyone is finished. When we walk back in the classroom I remind them to pick up their folders and move to their phonics tables. Even after following the same routine for almost 5 months, one child comes to me and asks me what phonics table she sits at. I refer to the charts on the wall that have the seating arrangements and then she is able to independently figure it out. They are all sitting like Leo the Lion because they want to earn puff balls. It always puts a smile on my face when I am able to say, "All tables, Choo! Choo!" And they respond with a loud, "Puff! Puff!" in unison. They are pleased with themselves. We review the alphabet and share words that have the /u/ sound in them. We actually come up with 11 words in 2 minutes. The aides come into the room and we split into small groups. My supplies manager thinks he has won the lottery as he passes out the supplies to each table. Work is play. We review all of our letters, sounds, and sight words. Everyone at my table earns all of their tally marks and Ken actually gets a token. A shiny, plastic token--what could be better? They do their best writing on their worksheets and then we revise some writing together. They are easily distracted and must frequently be reminded of what they should be doing. Their drawings are my favorite--it is exciting to see what they see. They are so excited for recess and will do anything they are asked to be able to go outside. We are running a little bit behind. Coats and gloves are put on but zippers are still a struggle for a few of them. They leave the room with two of the aides and there is finally some peace and quiet--but after 30 seconds I miss them and can't wait until they will be back after 10 minutes. They arrive late and most are smiling, but there are a few in tears because their hands and feet are cold. They sit at the rug anxious to continue learning. The activity planned will not work with their wet clothes and the lack of time. Back-up plan is made on the spot. They move to their tables and color zoo animals in preparation for a center activity. One colors his giraffe purple and his tiger is green. The child next to him spends the whole time coloring the hippopotamus with shading and color mixing. Parents begin to walk into the classroom for centers. As their children notice that they are there the can hardly keep concentrating on their work--their parents are their idols. We split into centers--animal name syllables at the green table, making a zoo at the yellow table, animal face painting at the red table, and writing at the blue table. The classroom is filled with the sounds of positive and educational conversations. The students are working well together. Time goes so fast and before I know it, it is time for the first rotation. I ring the bell and the students rotate. They are excited to do each activity. Things are going smoothly. The help of the parents is marvelous. I am blessed to be able to wander from center to center and have some one-on-one time with the students. I ring the bell and another rotation occurs. I suddenly realize that there is something wrong at the red table. Kayla is upset about something. She wants to use the red colored pencil to paint her face but Chris had it first. I try to calm her but she becomes more and more upset and resistant. Time is up for that center and my aide rings the bell. Kayla starts crying. She didn't have enough time to finish painting her face. She is devastated. The more I try to talk to her and explain things the more inconsolable she becomes. She starts screaming and yelling and throws herself on the floor. Her face was red but now it is turning white. I try to help her up and comfort her but she scurries under the table. The rest of the class is silent and is watching in awe. I am completely overwhelmed and don't know what to do with the poor child. Coaxing her to come out from under the table is getting us no where. The aide goes and gets someone from the office to help. Patty is our life saver. She is able to get Kayla's attention even though she is still screaming and yelling as she takes her out of the classroom. I sigh. I am overwhelmed and frustrated--not with Kayla but with the situation Kayla is living in. She comes from a broken home. Her life is unstable and I know that she has experienced some awful and traumatizing things. Her reaction to what happened during centers was not because she didn't have the red colored pencil; it was because she is hurting. I wanted so badly to throw my arms around her and tell her that I understood. I wanted her to know that I love her. I wanted her to know that I was someone safe in her life and that school is a place of safety and refuge. Kayla's consistent acting out tells me that something is happening in her life and she needs love. She is not a typical 5 year old. Something has dampened the trust and happiness and innocence of that beautiful little girl. Something out of her control and out of her power. Something unfair.
Suddenly it hit me how much I can relate to Kayla--how we can all relate to her. We all have things that take place in our lives that are unfair--often because of the poor use of another's agency. Inside we may be screaming and yelling and kicking because we are hurting so badly and we want someone to come to our rescue. It is so hard for me to see others in a situation like that--and usually I am unaware. We are all fighting inner battles that are unseen to those around us. But when I am aware, I am often overwhelmed and hurt for the person. I don't want them to experience hard things. My hope lessens because I realize how many bad things happen to people in this world who are undeserving--and that it won't stop until the Savior comes again. I don't want anything bad to happen until then. I was sharing these feelings with a friend and her words really touched me:
It does happen--but not because any of us want it to. The only way you would be able to prevent it (and every other horrible event that happens in this world of ours) is to take away agency.God gave us agency. It is a gift. I do not want to take it away. People will continue to use their agency in inappropriate and unfair ways that will hurt themselves and others, but people will more often use it in wonderful ways to bless their lives and the lives of others. As for the inappropriate uses, that is why we have a Savior. I love this little snippet from Preach My Gospel (p. 52):
As we rely on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, He can help us endure our trials, sicknesses, and pain. We can be filled with joy, peace, and consolation. All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.I am so thankful for the Savior of this world. I am thankful to know that there is hope--that He is the hope. Even though I cannot always be there for Kayla and for all others who are struggling, He will be. He loves us and will never abandon us. "All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ." That is truth.