Saturday, December 25, 2010
This past week, as school wrapped up for winter break, my class chose to donate a few dollars each to a charity in place of purchasing gifts for a class gift exchange. They then chose to do a White Elephant gift exchange using only items from home (to avoid purchasing things - it is nearly impossible to buy a $2 gift that is remotely interesting anymore). This has worked well in the past, so I decided to go ahead with it. All the students had to pre-approve the gift from home with both their parents and their teacher (me!). They excitedly asked me permission to bring gifts, and I only had to not approve one gift idea. One young lady, who is particularly clingy, asked permission to bring an item from home. I approved it.
The next day, she came in and told me that her mother became very angry and told her daughter to tell me that she would NOT be participating in the gift exchange after all. I just said "OK" and went on, but it bothered me. Her mother is an alcoholic. Her mother isn't stable. So I later approached the young lady and asked if she wanted to still participate in the exchange. She told me that she did, and I told her that I had some items that she could choose from for a gift. I also told her we'd wrap it together.
The day of the party, I went to the "kid holding" area before school began and took the young lady back to my classroom. I handed her materials to wrap her gift, and she just stood there. It was obvious she had no idea what she was doing. I sat down on the floor with her and taught her how to wrap a gift (even though I'm no good at it!). I showed her how you should make the part of the gift that the person will open the part of the gift that looks the prettiest. As I was showing her how to curl ribbon, she said "Ms. Non-Mommy, how do you know how to do this?" I told her that my mom had taught me how to do it. She sighed and said "I guess that is what moms are supposed to do, huh? They teach you how to do cool things. Or, they are supposed to."
With a lump in my throat, I sent her back to the "kid holding" area carrying her gift. I knew that I'd just had an important moment with a sad little girl.
Sometimes, my job is very overwhelming, but not in the sense that you would think. I went into this job to make a difference in the lives of children. I did not go into teaching to make sure that kids knew the order of operations in math, or that they understand and have memorized their guaranteed rights in the Constitution of the United States.
I'm not overwhelmed at what I have to deal with. There are so many heartbreaking situations out there. I deal on a very regular basis with sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect. I've had to help out many children over the years who have lost a parent. I have personally been responsible for a child being taken out of their home due to abuse. I buy clothes every year for kids. I have packed lunches to send home with kids that I know are not being fed. I've dealt with transvestite situations, suicides, extreme violence in the classroom...you name it, I've dealt with it. But even all of that is not what I find overwhelming.
I find it overwhelming that there is so much need, and I don't have enough to give. I lay in bed worrying about these kids. I'm overwhelmed because, while I do care that they learn, I am held back from helping these poor children whose only safe place is school because of all the government interventions that I have to give them. I'm overwhelmed that I am still expected to be accountable for a child's academic progress (or lack thereof) when I know that so many of these kids are living in deplorable, unhappy conditions.
I'm overwhelmed. I just want to make a difference. There is so much need out there.
I am a good teacher. I am a better role model. But there is only one of me. Today at Christmas, I hope you will consider how you can make even a tiny difference in the lives of others. Just taking the time to do something small like teach someone how to wrap a gift can be a positive lifeline that someone in a desperate situation can grab onto. There are so many needs, worldwide. Remember, though, that even in our neighborhoods, wealthy, poor, rural, urban...there is always someone that needs encouragement and kindness.
We are so blessed. Merry Christmas.