Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I Also Have a Dream


I am fully aware that yesterday was MLK Day.  But, it seemed fitting to use him for the theme for today's post to go with the current feelings I'm having.

Yesterday was a rough day.  And I mean...ROUGH.

Not all of it.  Just the second half.  The first half was fine...a normal day back in to normal routines giving my normal spills about assignments and whatnot.

But, the afternoon was ROUGH.

Last week, I received word that the younger brother of a student I had last year for math and reading had passed away.  It's always a blow to the system when I hear of any child passing away, but when it's a child of someone I know or of a student it makes it much harder to swallow.  The young boy who passed away had been born with severe complications.  This was a passing that didn't come as huge shock or by some freak accident.  But, it doesn't make it any easier to cope with.

I knew straight away, regardless of how selfish it may sound, that I could not attend the funeral.  I just wouldn't be able to hold myself together well enough.  My emotions, however strong they sometimes appear, knew that wasn't something I could manage.  But, I was asked to attend the visitation before the funeral.  

My only purpose was to offer my condolences and support to the student that sat in my classroom last year.  The boy that had come to me with emotional baggage.  Having a younger brother with a life-threatening illness and complications took a toll on the home life.  He came with excuses and expectations of failure.  He shut down when things got tough.  He would cry in the blink of an eye out of frustration or disappointment that he hadn't or couldn't complete assignments.  And, so, I had honed in on making his year one of success and achievement.  He came to me weak and unsure.  He left me strong and motivated.  And that is something I will always be proud of.

But, walking in to that funeral home yesterday made all forms of emotions come crashing down on me.  Seeing that coffin in the room instantly brought tears to my eyes.  I even had to walk straight back out, because my knees buckled at the sight.  I had to suck it up, though.  I had to walk in to that room.  I had to swallow my emotions and be strong.... for the boy I had shown so much strength to.  And that's what I did.  I held him in my arms while he cried.  I sat behind him and rubbed his shoulder while his current teacher talked to him.  The school's family liaison, who has helped so much with his family, and his homeroom teacher from last year were also with us.  We all sat with him, comforting him as much as we could.  And I couldn't help but notice that during this time of devastation, the look of strength was still in his eyes.  For his mother?  For his family?  For his little brother?  I don't know.  But, I knew just by his look that he was going to be OK.  He was going to get through this.  Because he knew he had the support he needed to do so.

I left the funeral home with a heaviness in my heart...one that followed me right back to my classroom.

I'm not sure if going to the funeral home impacted the way I looked at the afternoon, but my students seemed to be a lot more rowdy when I returned.  It was hard to get their attention, to get them to focus on what we were doing.  I pulled a couple of kids back to my table to work with me in a small group while the rest of the class worked on a review assignment.  The kids I was working with didn't want to pay attention.  They wouldn't listen to the directions I was giving them, even in our close proximity.  They seemed to have no care when I pointed out that they were doing the exact opposite of what I had directed them to do.  When it came time to go over the assignment the rest of the class had been working on, there was a stream of incorrect answers being given, answers that made no sense.. yet, they thought it hilarious that they had rushed through the assignment without following the directions and getting all wrong answers.

I decided it was best to move on to a different subject area.  Yet, the same thing happened then.  I was asking questions and trying to have a class discussion...and they were more interested in yelling out answers without thinking about what they were saying or if what they were yelling made any sense with the questions I was asking.

And, it was after my frustration reached it's breaking point that I snapped.

I stopped everything.  I told them to put their books and materials away.  And then out it came... the flood of emotion that was boiling up inside of me.

Education is a gift.  A gift that not all children receive.  There are millions of children in the world who are denied an education, who have no means of an education.  There are kids that would give their right arm to set foot in to a classroom and learn.  And then there are the children who will never have the opportunity to learn... because their time on this earth was cut short for some reason or another.  

There will be times when the learning won't be as fun as you'd like.  There will be times when you don't understand why you have to learn what you're learning.  There will be times when the expectations asked of you will appear impossible, and you will get frustrated.  

But that is life.  

We often take education for granted.  It's an expectation.  A rule.  Kids have to go to school, right?  Not because it's something you want to do, but because you have to.  But, instead of thinking about school as a chore or a requirement... why not think of it as a gift or the key to making dreams become reality, the impossible become a little more impossible, and a bright future based on this beginning?

I'm sure that if I were to ask you how you would feel about not being allowed to come to school, you might not think it all that bad. If you weren't allowed to learn math and reading and science and social studies... that would be fine with you, right?  Yay!! No school!  

Who needs school?  School isn't as fun as sitting at home and playing video games or being able to play outside riding your bike or playing soccer or football in the streets, right?  

But, what about those kids who would give their right arm to come to school... would you be willing to trade your life for theirs?  Would you rather wonder where or when your next meal is coming?  Would you rather live in a hut with nothing but old blankets and straw as your bed?  Would you rather use the restroom in a field and bath in a mud hole?  And bringing it even closer to home. Would you rather have to stay in a bed all day long without the control of your arms or legs?  Without the possibility to hold a pencil, or see book, or have the ability to run and play with your friends?

For many of you, had you been alive 50+ years ago, you wouldn't be able to go to school just because of the color of your skin.  You'd be made to feel like you were not important.  You wouldn't be able to step foot into a store or a movie theater or ride a bus, simply because you aren't white.  

So, while you sit there complaining and whining and goofing off about what I've asked you to do, just take one second to think about what life would be like if you were one of the children who aren't given the gift of an education.  If nothing else, take a second to think about what you would like your life to be like when you're an adult.  Do you think your life will be great if you don't know how to read or do math?  Do you think that your parents want you to succeed?  Do you one day hope to have kids of your own?  Will you be OK if they didn't care about school?

I sure hope not.

Right now, we're going to watch a video about a man who created the path for ALL people, regardless of their skin color, to have the rights that you have now.  While this movie is playing, think about what I have asked. Think about what you think your life would be like had this man just decided that school wasn't worth fighting for, that equal rights just weren't worth fighting for.

And that's how I led in to our Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. segment.  We watched the movie, and then I had them write a very short "I have a dream.." speech. 

It was lot quieter for the rest of the day.  The speeches reflected what I'd discussed.  Many kids wrote how they had a dream that ALL children in the world were given the "gift" of school.  They wrote how they had a dream that poor people would no longer be poor, sick would no longer be sick.  

I felt a little bad for letting my emotions take over, but sometimes I feel like I have to take a second and remind them what MY purpose is.  

And today, we'll see if it made any impact.

My students are all great kids.  They are smart, and caring, and supportive.  Some days, they just get a little tired of the same ol' same ol' and want everything to be fun.  I understand that.  I often give that to them.  But, I also like to think that I'm providing life lessons when not everything ends up how they'd hoped it would be.  That they have to work through the boring and hard times.  It makes them stronger.  It makes them smarter.  

And it's really how life is.

OK...time for me to go.


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