I came back from Boston's NCTE Annual Convention late Sunday evening. I was filled with messages to slow down and recapture the joy that teaching brought us - before Common Core, before high stakes testing took over teacher evaluations, before the negativity surrounded the teaching profession, before, before, before. We were urged by amazing people (Christopher Lehman, Kate Roberts, Maggie B. Roberts, Nancie Atwell, Pam Allyn, Jeff Anderson, Matt Glover, Kathy Collins, Penny Kittle, Donalyn Miller, Kelly Gallagher, numerous authors, and the list goes on and on) to make relationships with our young people and SEE each and every one of them.
My Monday started with one of my sixth graders bringing me a bag full of money before the bell rang. Her family celebrates Thanksgiving early and does a gift exchange. In lieu of presents, this amazing girl asked for donations to our 6th grade project, inspired by A Long Walk to Water, to raise money for Water for South Sudan, Inc. (Nerdy Book Club post about it). She raised almost $100! She was so excited. When my first class came to me at 9:00 am, one of my 5th grade girls came up to me right away to tell me her weekend story. She was visibly excited and passionate. She wanted to tell me all about the time she and her family had spent at Hope House Mission over the weekend, a local center for homeless women and children. Compassion poured out of her as she told me about the woman she sat next to at a meal and listened to, hearing all about her circumstances. Goosebumps stood out on my arms as I took in all she had to say. Her story jumpstarted a whole discussion on the various good works my students are involved in: Cincinnati Children's Hospital fundraising, local soup kitchens, building wells in Guatemala, collecting food for Thanksgiving dinners at relief shelters, etc. Many of my 5th grade students have brought in pajamas for our Scholastic Book Clubs Pajama Drive for the Pajama Program, a wonderful charity that donates pairs of pajamas and books to children in need. We took the time to hold those up and ooh and ahh over the cuteness and coziness of the pjs, imagining the children curled up in them, listening to a new, donated book. Soon it was 9:30 - a half hour had gone by, and my stomach clenched for a moment, thinking of all that I should've been doing in that 30 minutes, but then those NCTE voices played in my head, reminding me that I needed to be doing this. I'll be able to catch up on those academic things, but would I ever have had that conversation and seen the part of my students that the world sometimes misses if I hadn't slowed down to listen? I thank God that my young readers and writers have hearts for the hurts of the world. That they want to help. That they want to be part of something bigger than themselves. That they are compassionate people, not just numbers. That's what I'm thankful for.