Despite having children in the public school system for more than a decade, I have never volunteered in the classroom on a regular basis until this year. I always had a little person at home with me that made regular volunteering challenging. Sure, I went along on some field trips and helped with stuff from home and worked the book fair and open houses and the school carnival. But regular, weekly, in-the-classroom volunteering is new territory for me.
Each Wednesday morning I walk my kids to school like usual (except for today, when we drove, since it was rainy!), but instead of kissing them goodbye and turning around to walk back home, I go to the office, sign in on the iPad, don my volunteer badge and head off down the hall to spend the morning with some great kiddos!
Until now, I've mostly had the opportunity to maintain my ignorance about what kids -- little kids! -- have to deal with in their lives. I know, intellectually, and on a general level, that there are kids in my kid's school (and in pretty much every school in our country) who have yucky home situations. Who don't eat breakfast in the morning. Or dinner at night. Who struggle with academic stuff that their peers mastered long ago. Who don't have appropriate clothes (coats, hats, boots) to wear to school. Who don't have supportive parents. Who don't have a home, or a bed of their own. I know these facts intellectually, but to know these things more intimately, in my heart, by working each week with kids who struggle in these areas, is heartbreaking! If I knew the specifics of each of the 20 or 30-some kids in the classroom, I think it might do me in! I don't think I could take it. Even the kids who seem to have things going for them (kids like the ones that live at my house), have struggles. Real struggles. Some not as "big" as being homeless, for example, but just as real. No one is exempt. And to know those struggles for dozens of kids is so weighty! I told one teacher this morning, "I really don't know how you do it. It's heartbreaking!". She agreed and said she doesn't sleep too great many nights. These men and women are heroes! Their love and concern for kids that aren't their own blows my mind. The hours they spend working with, thinking about, worrying about these kids is WAY more than the hours written in their contracts. I am so very thankful for them!
This morning, one of the kiddos I work with one-on-one wasn't at school. That allowed me to spend a little more time helping out another teacher, but I couldn't help but worry about why this kiddo wasn't at school today. I was looking forward to our game of "war", where we sneak in work on some math facts under the guise of just playing a card game. I want to be a bright spot in the lives of the kids I come in contact with. I don't want to just help them make academic strides (although that will, hopefully, be an outcome as well), I want to build them up. Make them feel seen and cared about and noticed. I want them to know that they matter and are important and can do it . . . even when they think they can't. I want to give them big huge hugs and tell them that I pray for them and buy them a nice, new winter coat. But some things aren't appropriate to do and I just need to keep pouring into them and praying for them and loving them in the ways that I can. I only know the specifics of a very small number of kids (and even then, there is lots of stuff I don't know about them) and it is hard. I know I am more sensitive than some, but I don't know how pouring in to the life of a kid who is struggling in life couldn't get to you, no matter who you are. They are kids, for crying out loud! Life should be (mostly) carefree and fun. And for many it isn't. That is hard for me to know. To really know. Not just to be aware of, and know in my head, but to know in my heart too.
I could not handle being a classroom teacher. For way more reasons than I could begin to list. But I am so very thankful for teachers! They are my heroes! Thank you, teachers!