A couple of weeks ago I poked a little fun at my third-born’s elementary school. While it’s true that tolerance has become the new plot line in the school musical, I witnessed something yesterday that reminds me of what an incredible place Jase’s school actually is.
Yesterday was field day for the first graders. As I’ve done every year for the last eight years, I took a day off to go hang out with other parents and watch as one of my kids ran relay races, tossed frisbees, and burned off some end-of-the-year steam. One of Jase’s classmates is a special-needs little boy who, at first glance, just looks like a high-strung seven year old. He’s in his own little world most of the time, rarely listens to directions, and can sometimes be a real handful for the teacher and teacher’s assistant. My wife gave me a little schooling on his condition so I wouldn’t unfairly think the kid just needed a time out (or a whooping, if you grew up like I did).
For a kid like Billy (not his real name), field day is a day where his entire system gets thrown out of whack. There’s too much noise, too much chaos, and too much unpredictability that it sends him into overdrive. He broke down in tears, wails, screams, and tantrums approximately 719 times yesterday. Over the course of the day, I went from no reaction to being mildly annoyed to having a colossal headache to finally just feeling sorry for the kid. He was genuinely breaking down because his normally predictable schedule, wasn’t.
The real heroes of yesterday were the classroom teachers. For eight hours, I got to witness unconditional love in action. Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Mayer are two of the kindest, sweetest ladies you’ll ever meet, and they took extra time throughout the day to kneel down, hug, console, and counsel Billy through his rough patches. I never once saw them lose their cool, never once heard them raise their voice, never once witnessed so much as an eye roll. They knew this little boy was simply reacting to an assault on his world, and they were doing everything they could to reach him.
By the end of the day, I was an emotional wreck. I was getting misty eyed every time I saw one of these precious ladies love on that precious kid. Even now, I get choked up thinking of what I saw. In a new educational system where hugs and head pats are discouraged for fear of lawsuits, these two women put themselves on Billy’s level time after time to make sure that he made it through the day. I tried expressing to Mrs. Johnson my appreciation for her, but my ability to articulate my gratitude for her gift of kindness was woefully inadequate.
I have no idea what Billy’s home life is like. I don’t know if he’ll ever receive the help that he needs. But I do know for one year in elementary school, he knows what it means to be loved. Unconditional, constant, pure, encouraging love.
Maybe the greatest outworking of this love comes from the other kids in the classroom. In just about any other case, Billy would have been the subject of scorn, correction, and criticism from the rest of the kids. They would have yelled at him for messing up the game, screamed at him for making their team lose, or whined because he was consistently taking the focus off of their day of fun. But out of a class of twenty-something kids, I never heard anything like that. They were also encouraging and loving towards Billy. You know and I know that first graders don’t just do that…they have to have a model. My kid and the rest of the kids in that class are better friends because of the example of their teachers.
Mrs. Johnson & Mrs. Mayer, I don’t know if you’ll ever stumble across this post, but thank you. Thanks for loving Billy like you do. Thanks for faithfully doing your job and getting paid about 2% of what you’re worth. You’re more than a teacher…you’re a hero.