Learning The Art of Teacherly Love

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 18 2012

More than Words and Numbers

A Loving Parent

“Dear Teacher,

I am sending you my most precious possession today,
Trusting in your care what to do and say,
Be gentle and loving and encourage him too,
I’m trusting in you to know what to do,
Show him things and let him draw,
So he’ll remember the things he saw,
Let him jump and run and play,
He’ll tell us all about his day,
Let him do things on his own too,
But please help him when he looks to you,
Give him a hug and smile a lot,
Memories of you will never be forgot.”
Renee H. Davis

I could not have found a more perfect way to express the intensity of our most important job as teachers:
To cherish, protect, and care for, the most precious possessions of Philadelphia… Our children.

The hopes and requests of this mother ring louder than ever within my heart this week.  With Friday’s tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut fresh in our minds, and images flashing across television screens in households throughout the city, I have really been reflecting on my true purpose in West Philly…

Within the past month, it had begun to feel like we were going through the motions of school.  Room 306 was slowly pushing forward, making tiny steps of progress, continuing to make changes and adjustments to boost our areas of weakness… I had not been feeling particularly successful, yet I did not feel as though we were falling behind or failing by any means.  We were simply getting things done.

This weekend though, following the events on Friday, I spoke with a fellow teacher, explaining to her that we seemed to be in a sort of slow (somewhat flatlined) push towards that blessed Winter Break… And then she mentioned one thing about my students that really brought me back to my purpose.
She said, “All of your boys look really happy.  They seem glad to be at school, and much more confident…  And just.. really happy.”

With that comment, my heart filled with joy.  That is a success.  How could I have missed that? I am doing what the author of the poem is asking.
And then I started to count how many of my students have been absent this year… One.  One boy has missed a few days, with doctor’s excuses for each absence.  And then I began to think about how often I have to fight really hard to get a child to work with me… Hardly ever.  They are willing to work hard, and there is no doubt that it is incredibly difficult work for them.  Yet, they are willing to try, and unafraid to ask for help.  Is this a reflection of their happiness?  Does this tell me that they really do want to be there?  Does this mean that they feel safe within our classroom to push themselves and take academic risks?

While I have always known the first priority of my job, Friday’s events make that priority jump more clearly to the forefront of my mind.  Everyday, because they really are there everyday, I am in charge of not only their learning success, but their safety.  I must always remember how precious they are to their parents, grandparents, brothers, and sisters… My job is not teaching them the words in the books or the numbers on the page.  In fact, thinking of the parents of Sandy Hook Elementary, and the families of my students, that is my second task.  My first job is to do as the mother in the poem writes..

I have found that this final poem is a much more accurate description of what we teachers are actually called to do… Everyday.

I Am A Teacher

“I am a counselor and psychologist to a problem-filled child,
I am a police officer that controls a child gone wild.
I am a travel agent scheduling our trips for the year,
I am a confidante that wipes a crying child’s tear.
I am a banker collecting money for a ton of different things,
I am a librarian showing adventures that a storybook brings.
I am a custodian that has to clean certain little messes,
I am a psychic that learns to know all that everybody only guesses.
I am a photographer keeping pictures of a child’s yearly growth,
When mother and father are gone for the day, I become both.
I am a doctor that detects when a child is feeling sick,
I am a politician that must know the laws and recognize a trick.
I am a party planner for holidays to celebrate with all,
I am a decorator of a room, filling every wall.
I am a news reporter updating on our nation’s current events,
I am a detective solving small mysteries and ending all suspense.
I am a clown and comedian that makes the children laugh,
I am a dietician assuring they have lunch or from mine I give them half.
When we seem to stray from values, I become a preacher,
But I’m proud to have to be these people because …
I’m proud to say, “I am a teacher.” ”
Stacy Bonino

My thoughts and prayers are with the families of Newtown, Connecticut, as they begin to tackle the aftermath of this horrific tragedy…
And as Mann Elementary begins to talk with students, reassure parents, prepare, and set aside our secondary agendas of words and numbers for a few important moments… As we show the community that this is not only a school, but a secure place filled with people who care deeply about each child… As we work to protect, and continue to cherish the children of West Philadelphia, I ask that you pray for us, and all schools, that we may never experience or witness anything as devastating.

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