And it didn't help when I spent a whole day at a poverty workshop this past Friday. Or when my husband came home from CCYC with stories of children sold into slavery and sex trade for less than what our family spends on a meal at a drive thru. It might have been the conversations with my students that brought me mixed emotions of anger and disgust and relief when we discussed Civil Rights and slavery and spirituals in my classes this month.
Whatever it is, I know that my heart is with them. And their situations. And their pasts, presents, and futures. I have seen them. I have smelled them. I have heard their stories. I have seen the scars on their bodies and in their minds. I have cried with them. I have called DSS for them. I have gotten so angry with them or their parents. I have watched them save food for a later meal. I have had countless pencils, markers, and supplies taken from my classroom. I have loved them when it was hard, and I have guarded my heart when it was too much.
The children in our public schools are our living and breathing "least of these."
And they are right under our noses.
There are days when I want to throw in the towel and stay home with my personal children and not have to deal with the constant discouragement that walks into our school building. Some days I really just don't want to deal with the people, and the issues, and drama, and some of the personnel and/or the cliental, and the junk that comes from working in a public school. I don't know how many times I've said to other teachers that people on the outside would never believe what goes on behind closed doors at their local school. I'm not even talking about anything illegal or scandalous--I'm referring to just the day in and day out issues that we teachers deal with on a regular basis.
People on the outside have no idea how depressing it can be at times. How frustrated we become. They have no idea that we look at some of our future adults and worry because these will be the ones that will run our country in a few years. How we look at our personal children and want to protect them from the things they see and hear in their own classrooms. How some days we feel like we're walking into the lions' den and wonder if we are ready for the next situation.
But the Lord has reminded me over and over again of His words in Matthew 25:34-40(MSG):
34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit
I was in prison and you came to me.’
37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
Dear teachers, let me encourage you the way I have been encouraged and challenged:
You make a difference.
You are taking care of these children when you love on them. When you cheer them on. When you take the opportunity to speak words of life and love to them when the world only spits out hate. When you spend your own money to meet their instructional needs. When you give them a kind word, when you praise their smallest efforts, and when you guide them on personal hygiene. When you give them opportunities to fail and provide a safety net and a third or fourth or tenth chance. When you put a sticker by their names on a chart. When you let them lead the line and get water and reward them with a piece of candy. When you visit them at the hospital and their ball games and see them in their church programs. When you take the time to learn about their homes and their parents and their dreams. When you refuse to take it personally when they lash out because profanity and rage and fists are the only languages they know. When you take them shopping and gave them your classroom Christmas trees to take home because they didn't have one. When you anonymously give them money for food or clothing or book bags. When you chose them for a special trip.
When you give a kid value, love, and support--you take care of the least of these.
Sweet teachers: thank you for all that you do. As a parent and fellow educator, I am in awe and inspired by the things I see in your classrooms. I am so thankful that my girls have had fantastic teachers that have loved and encouraged them. I am thankful for the teachers I had many years ago who took care of me and my classmates.
But when you take the time to love one another, and truly care for your students--then I believe that you are doing everything just right. And everything else will fall into place. Because your students may not remember that you taught them how to divide, multiply, subtract and bring down--or that All Cows Eat Grass.
But they will remember that you loved them.