If you were to ask someone what the job of an educator is in today's world, I'm sure they would say something to the affect of "Their job is to teach our kids what they need to know so they can pass that test, or go to college, or get a job".
But for anyone who's been in education very long, you know our jobs are so much more than that. In addition to the job we have of educating a child with the standards required for that grade level, many times we also: become surrogate parents, buy clothes/food for our students, teach them how to become good citizens, organize after school events, before school events, attend extracurricular activities....oh and somewhere in there we try to still have a life too.
Thursday evening I was reminded of just what we really do as educators.
Thursday evening was our annual Family Holiday Night at my Elementary School. This a fundraiser put on by our Parent/Teacher Organization. Kids and families can come for a night of games, pictures with Santa, and then a Holiday Movie with pizza and popcorn. It's always a great event!
The night went off without a hitch! We had a great crowd!
After making sure all the families had left, I went up to the front to grab my things and lock my office. After grabbing my stuff, I made sure the front doors of the school were locked (as I always park in the back and sometimes forget to check!).
When I was making my way back through the office to head to the back doors, I saw one of our 5th graders asleep on our office couch. I knew right away who it was. This little boy was one we see quite often in the office. He's a young man that we have invested in for several years now. As soon as I saw him there I knew what had happened.
You see, at 3pm earlier that day he had stopped by my office to ask if he could come to the Family Night even if he didn't come with family and if he didn't have a ride home. I knew his family wouldn't be there. So I reminded him that we have to come with an adult or we can't stay if we don't have a ride. He said ok, and walked away.
When I saw him asleep on the couch I knew what he had done. He wanted to so badly to be at school, instead of somewhere else, that he stayed after, attended the family night and then fell asleep in the office on the couch. And the worst part? He didn't stay to see students who were his friends, he stayed to see his friends, the teachers.
I gently woke him up and told him it was time to go. Knowing I couldn't just leave him there, I grabbed his backpack and told him he was gonna get a ride home from me. I checked him with again to make sure no one was coming, just to be sure. And of course the answer was, no.
This young man doesn't say a lot at school. One of the things he struggles with is using his words when he gets frustrated or overwhelmed. So as we walked to the car, we walked in silence.
I already knew where he lived because I've made several home visits over the last few years.
Once we got to his apartment, he sat in my car. I let him know we were home, and that I would see him tomorrow morning bright and early. He turned, looked right at me, and said "Thank you for taking me home Mr. Nesloney".
I almost lost it right there. This young man doesn't always choose to have that kind of attitude or use those kind of words. But as he got out of my car, and walked towards his door I was reminded of one simple fact.....
As educators our job is so much more than to prepare a child to pass a course, a grade-level, or a test. As educators we get the opportunity every day to touch and change lives. We get to invest in hearts as well as minds. We get to hold kids as they cry, sneak off to Wal-Mart to buy a new pair of shoes for a little girl with holes in hers, slip an extra $10 in the little boy's lunch account so he doesn't eat a cheese sandwich that day, go to their football game because they off-handedly told you no one else would be there, and more.
As I drove home, after dropping him off, I was filled with a mix of emotions. I was heartbroken for so many of our kids who come to school just to be loved. But at the same time I was hopeful, because I know my team is filled with people who would have done exactly what I had done (and have before) without a second thought.
When people ask why I'm in education, when they ask why I work with kids from poverty when I could be in an "easier" area, when people ask why I stay in the district I'm in, I will look back at this moment and remember my why. That one little boy that I was able to drive home and show an act of kindness to. That is why I'm in education, because our kids need us.