it’s over

Today, I swept beneath twelve chairs. Folded the uniforms to be sent to laundry service. Organized IEP binders, cleaned closets, recycled random drawings, and cleaned my white board with the fancy spray.

I met teachers for next year. Met a new therapist that is coming on board. Watched some of my coworkers answer to their first name. We wore jeans, shorts, flip flops. Today, I watched the day go by in an outsider’s body. Watched myself clean up my classroom and pack it away.

It was bittersweet. I thought of my first day in that classroom. Astonished at how small the room was. Frustrated that my computer was from the dinosaur age and that I would have no textbooks. Scared that my children would beat me up. Amazed that Mr. B was already so awesome. I prayed over each seat. Hoped that somehow these kids would learn something from me. I had no idea what was coming next.

By October, I had already been cussed out numerous times, had furniture thrown at me, and a rainbow of bruises on my shins. That was just from the students.

By November, I had been bullied by several coworkers and had cried numerous times after hours in the safety of my classroom. I gave my boss an ultimatum before leaving for Thanksgiving. Things shifted slightly when we returned to school.

By December, I had talked with three different Social Services workers so much that we were on a first name basis and recognized each other’s voices instantly. By December, I gave myself emotional permission to quit. These children were hurting and I couldn’t figure out how to fix them- knowing and feeling their lives was damaging my heart.

But I couldn’t do it to my kids.

My kids are each a story. Too much to share. Let’s just make it clear: these children hurt. They ache with the pain of being abandoned. They cry from the hurt that dwells in their soul. They tantrum for the need of attention. They respond to the voices and smells that are in their mind alone. They act out in response to their innocence being stolen.

In January, I felt better. I could breathe. I could do this. I had finished a Christmas Break filled with love and encouragement {thank you, family}. Love breeds love.

That optimism disappeared quickly. My children came back from Break thinner. More bruises. Longer, wild hair. Dirty Clothes. Fresh scabs. More behavior issues. New ways to string together the same five cuss words from last semester. They had been waiting for school to start as much as I had been dreading it.

February, March, and April were the longest months of my life. I vaguely remember birthdays, celebrations, and events. I hardly remember anything positive from my personal life in that time. I remember my professional life vividly. I remember thinking that this was backwards, but being too exhausted and drained to do anything about it.

Time marched on. May was SOL month. After testing each student, I felt low. Most of them failed every subject. Had I taught them nothing?

June came. The older students graduated and I was cynical. Were these not the same children who were in seclusion for cutting a classmate? For scratching themselves? For sexual misconduct? So many questions. Mr. B was not there the last few days of school. It was difficult. I even had a new student on the very last day of school. C’est la vie.

June 17: My first year teaching is over. I can breathe.

What took me too long to realize {and appreciate} was that these children love in the only way they know how. They pet my hair, rubbed my skin, stared at my eyes. They invaded my space regularly. They asked if my teeth were real. They took my trash out of the trashcan and hid it under their desks in several occasions. They held my hand. Several of them called me, “Mom” and didn’t bother to fix it. They punched me because sometimes hugging is too hard.

“So what did you learn this year?” someone asked me today. Well, I learned that hand shakes and hugs are for healthy people. Healthy people know how to love someone in an acceptable way and they know how to receive it. People in an unstable emotional and mental state don’t typically have these skills. They need to punch. They need to kick. They need to bite, spit, slap, shake, rub, and hurt. That is the only twisted love connection they know.

Mom asked me a few weeks ago, “What would you do differently next time?” Hmm. This year I wasted a lot of time on academics. “A teacher waste time on academics?!” you say? Yes, academics were primarily a waste of time. Sure, knowing how to tell time in 6th grade is important. Of course you need to know how to capitalize and punctuate. But how important is the Revolutionary War when a child is hurting? Next time I will focus my year on making sure each child knows without a shadow of a doubt that one person loves them.

One of my college professors closed every lecture with what I labeled an ‘Academic Benediction.’ She sent us into the world as a smarter, more confident student every day.

To my students out there, you know I love you. From the bottom of my heart.

Go out into the world and know that it will be okay. Strive to be healthier and smarter with each day that comes. Know that you have supporters and that you can always find encouragement in Mr. B and in myself. In the words of Dr. Flowe, “Do your best. Then do a little more.”

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