Three years ago, I visited a class whose teacher told me that I “needed to speak with them.” She’d said she had a lot of “Carleys” from my first book, ONE FOR THE MURPHYS. I’d been scheduled to speak to them for 45 minutes. I was there for 2 1/2 hours. And, yes, there were a lot of kids struggling with life’s circumstances. I could see it in their body language, their questions, and how some averted their eyes when stories relating to resilience came up. How I’d had to dig down and find my own when I was their age.
When I left, several followed me into the hallway. It was fun and lively and they made jokes as I walked backwards to face them. Then their teacher called them back and I turned to go. And then I heard my name.
I turned to look into the eyes of a boy as tall as me with dark, wide eyes. He took a deep breath and when he exhaled, his body sagged. He shook his head a bit and finally said, “I’ve been through an awful lot.”
I didn’t ask what. Instead, I gave him the room to share what he wanted. The little he did share broke my heart. One of the things that struck me was how his teacher had obviously been helping with far more than English, math and history. She was helping him lay a foundation to navigate the future. After we talked for about ten minutes, he said to me, “My teacher tells me that I can’t be thinking of myself as a victim.”
I held his shoulders and looked him in the eye and said “No. You will not be a victim. You will grow up and do great things in the world. You will use these experiences to help others. You will not be a victim. You…will be a conqueror.”
He nodded once and he swallowed hard. I could see he was already working on that.
I have since met several kids like this and as I think of them, I always think of their teachers as well. For every talk I’ve had with a child, there is an adult nearby. Circling from afar. Glancing over. Checking in. These kids have emotional safety nets in these teachers and I am grateful for them every single day. I wonder if these teachers realize that they are saving lives.
I’ve met teachers who buy books and food and jackets for kids in need. Teachers show up at author events two hours from their homes because their students couldn’t get there otherwise. And then they thank me—this always floors me. And then there are the teachers who are not able to do these things outside of school but do a darn good job of teaching and igniting curiosity in their kids. They take their calling seriously. They make kids want to come to school—which opens huge doors. I had such a teacher.
Having been a quiet, disheveled student whose standardized test scores said I was illiterate I showed up to sixth grade expecting to fail. Again. I had been in the lowest reading group since first grade and spent a lot of time looking around the room and wondering why I couldn’t do the things the other kids could do. I had begun to wonder what would become of me.
And then I met Mr. Christy, my sixth grade teacher. He smiled when I walked into the room. He set high expectations and then ensured my success. He lifted me from one life path and set me on another. He changed the trajectory of my life by changing my perception of myself. He did this by focusing on the child rather than the student—and the student flourished. Regretfully, I didn’t have the words to thank him at the end of the year; I think eleven-year-old me was overwhelmed. Even though he has now passed away, I hope he knows that I’ve finally written him that thank you note. It’s 288 pages long and entitled, FISH IN A TREE.
Giveaway for teachers for Teacher Appreciation Day:
TEN winners will be chosen ~ I will give away one signed hardcover of your choice (One for the Murphys or Fish in a Tree) to ten different winners. Each winner must be able to provide a school address. After all, it IS a Teacher’s Appreciation giveaway. I will happily personalize it as well.
To enter, please leave a comment below and/or tweet / Retweet with the hashtag #OFTM which will help me find your entry.
Giveaway ENDS on Thursday, May 12 at 11:59 PM.