Walking down the hallway, I turn quickly into the school office, with the plan to retrieve a document that moments earlier I had sent to the photocopier from my computer. As I make the sharp turn to the right, scooting in around the corner, I become witness to a small huddle formed around a very little child. A very little child who happens to be robustly crying.
Actually, robustly wailing, might be a better descriptor.
I pause to observe and assess the situation, quickly realizing that things are well under control, safely held in a teacher’s and administrator’s very capable hands. So, I continue to make my way to the destination to which I had been heading: the photocopier. As I continue forward with my plan, the sounds of gentle voices of reassurance and the continued crying of the child, from behind me—near the door— draw me back to the scene I just passed.
I feel drawn to investigate, as this situation is far more compelling than anything I had been doing at the moment. I approach and offer to lend a hand, in whatever way I am needed.
And in doing so, I am pulled into a story that lifts my heart to places a photocopier could never reach.
The ensuing story, in which I decide to postpone my non-urgent plans to get some office work done, so that I might stay with the child, waiting for the subsiding of tears and eventual arrival of a parent to come and assess the situation, is a familiar one to many teachers. In this story, the child is unaware of my schedule, my agenda and my timetable. What matters is that someone is there: listening, caring, helping, biding out the time. In actuality, I am no longer thinking of the earlier to-do list, either, in which the need to “get things done” has gone to the wayside. Has been placed on hold. For all that matters is that someone is there, with the small little one who is needing someone bigger.
Someone like me. Someone like all the other teachers out there who do this on a daily basis.
Teaching is part academic, absolutely. It is also part schedule and routine and lesson-planning and delivery. It is guided reading and writing and math workshop and humanities. It is also music and physical education. It is instruction and assessment, both formative and summative. But its various component parts that are so important to the run of the day are often muted with the crying of a child, the desperate sound of a voice originating from one who is hurting or frustrated or in pain from something inflicted or otherwise. The various components listed above are often suspended in time by momentary interruptions that supercede the lesson or the unfolding “list of to-dos”.
In these moments of sustained suspension, teaching then becomes something much more primal. Much more primary and elementary than the words suggest.
Teaching becomes an act of the heart.
I witness this kind of teaching on a regular basis, now, more than ever: as a visitor to a classroom experiencing the writer’s workshop for the very first time, wherein I might see a child with ashen face approach the teacher, asking to call home. They are feeling sick. The teacher, dropping everything at that moment, which had previously been the focus, does so…so as to make suitable arrangements for the student’s need. This without any thought or provocation.
I witness this kind of heart-teaching during lunch hour when students realize they have perhaps not packed enough that morning, and so, provisions are made. Again, by teachers. Many of whom purchase these items from their own pockets.
I witnessed this kind of teaching just today… when I failed to pick my own daughter up on time from an after-school activity (thinking she was home, when she was actually at school); to which, I found her waiting with…her teacher/coach (who would not leave until the last child was accounted for). But of course, one might say.
I think these acts of the heart are generous and under-recognized. We should never take for granted the kindnesses of another soul. And I make no assumptions that these daily graces offered by the dedicated professionals I work with are a given. To have the knowledge that another adult not only teaches my child, but also cares for them (their well-being, personal growth, emotional state and physical development…)…well, that is worth its weight in gold.
I witness acts of the heart every.single.day.
Because that is what teaching truly is. It is heart and soul, mind and body: 100% all-in. It’s all about the kids. Whom we refer lovingly to as “our own”.
So, when that little one (in my story above) had ceased their crying and the saga had ended, what had not concluded with the finality of closure in my mind was the continual replay of the words: was this enough? Had I given everything I needed to give? Was I all in?
The way I see it is this: the mark of a successful day is not what lesson we have taught. Or rule we have enforced. Or any number of other important items in a given day. No. It is rather what hearts we have touched. What little one we have calmed and what bigger ones we have begun to rescue from the daily hurts and pain that follow us from birth to grave.
This is what truly matters.
And for many, many teachers: this is teaching as we have come to know and love it.
It is teaching from the heart.