“Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.”—Rabindranath Tagore
“We’ve had bad luck with our kids—they’ve all grown up.”—Christopher Morley
“The world is going to hell in a handbasket,” was an expression from my childhood that I often overheard grown-ups use that I never quite understood at the time. Of course, now, as an adult, I certainly understand those sometimes-still-stated words. In fact, I’ve even been known to think it a time or two! Then, I go to work, see the kids, and rethink that phrase.
I have been blessed with an amazing career—education. I became a certified (now licensed) teacher, unbelievably, at the age of 21; naively thinking I would set the world on-fire! Now, thirty-one years later, I realize, it is the opposite. It is the kids, as well as my own daughter, that have continued to ignite and inspire my own inner fire. They give me hope that, well, maybe, just maybe, society, as a whole, is not doomed to a fiery abyss.
While I have had the privilege of working in several wonderful schools, my current place of employment is St. Joseph Catholic School. One of the unique qualities of this school is that our students’ ages range from 6-weeks (daycare) to preschool age, as well as from Kindergarten to grade 8. While I spend most of my time with students in grades sixth through eighth, I do have occasional opportunities to indirectly encounter and interact with younger students, such walking through the halls, attending our weekly mass (church-service), and during school-wide events such as assemblies, the upcoming pumpkin drop, and so forth. Additionally, there are school-families, one of, if not my favorite, cross-grade activity.
Arranged differently each school year by our administrators, a school family is one or two students per grade from each K-8 grade level paired with a teacher or instructional aide. Then, throughout the school year, special activities are specifically planned to be completed as a school family. When these activities occur, middle school students are asked to gather the younger students, K-5, and lead them as a group to their assigned staff member. Then, the staff member helps facilitate the activity.
Benefits of school family activities are numerous, including fostering positive and appropriate communication, increasing empathy and understanding, encouraging team-building and problem solving, as well as an opportunity for leadership and role-modeling for the older students to name a few. As a teacher, school families allow me to see students as kids—the whole child, not just the student-side. Furthermore, it puts me in touch with wonder—the unbridled joy and enthusiasm with which children view the world!
Recently, staff and students at SJCS took a break out of our regular daily schedule for our first school family event. I individually talked to each member of the middle school students in my family—Caleb, Hope, and Carson–regarding my expectations for them. As I talked to Caleb, Hope and Carson individually, I tried to be both cheerleader and guide. All three students responded with nods of agreement, yet I still wondered if they would step up and own the full leadership potential I saw within each one. It would only take minutes to discover my answer.
The two kindergarten students tentatively entered my classroom holding Hope’s hand. First and second grade students burst through the doorway vibrating with liveliness, two of the *four kids, holding onto Carson’s hands. Lastly, walking politely and energetically came the third, fourth and fifth grade students with Caleb in the center, smile spreading widely across his face. As I assembled the group around a table set up with supplies to paint pumpkins, I could not help but feel a sense of pride for the middle school students as they assumed their role as caregivers and leaders.
Natural conversation ensued as the painting began. It never ceases to amaze the ease with which younger kids can engage one another with little to no apparent bias, judgment, or preconceived notions. Further, I love the way in which the little guys can fully embrace their task with a can-do attitude. By middle school, most students have lost part, and sadly sometimes all, of that openness. Thus, it is good for the middle school students to observe and once more be around that genuine spirit of all-is-possible.
Once painting was completed, I allowed students the freedom to draw, talk, and even read to one another, although one student read simply chose to read to himself. The conversations grew more animated. I walked about the room hopping in and out of the chatter, taking pictures, and overall soaking up the sweetness of the moment. Then, my ears perked up.
“How long did it take you to get to middle school?”
It was a second grader, his face intently and earnestly gazing at Hope, a seventh grader. I couldn’t help but smile and inwardly chuckle; and from the look of Hope’s face as well as the twinkle of her blue eyes, so was Hope as she tried to explain the math to him. His question stuck with me though.
How long did it take to get to year 31 of my teaching career? How long did it take for my own child to grow up and move on to college? How long did it take for my husband, John, and me to arrive at nearly 30-years of marriage? How long, how long, how long . . ..
The older I get, the more precious time and life become, and yet still, I move through each day more likely than not, forgetting that life is short. Like that slice of Grandmother Helen’s decadent brownie I can never recreate as much as I try, or Mamaw Musick’s beloved sugar-laden, thick-crusted apple pie that John swears was the best, life must be savored because it too will soon be gone as quickly as a fork being placed across an empty dessert with only a few crumbs of memory left.
Isn’t it ironic that some of the most important life lessons are presented in the form of child’s question?