"Sing your song. Dance your dance. Tell your tale." ~Frank McCourt
I’m going to take you waaaaay back. At least it feels that way to me.
I used to work with what many people would describe as horrible students---even some would say horrible people. They would rob, deceive and hurt just about anyone---until they got to know you, then they would defend you with their life.
They were very vulnerable. Witnessed countless things I can’t even imagine, carried the burden of hate and unjust to such a degree that it nearly crippled them. As incomprehensible as their past was to me--- so was mine to them.
Each one of my students had been kicked out of their local school in order to provide a more safe environment for the other students. With my school being the second most dangerous school in the city (possibly the country), one could see why their neighborhoods didn’t want these kids around.
Besides the lesson, “nothing is personal,” which I’ve discussed in an earlier blog, I learned how to survive, assimilate and thrive among these kids. They challenged my intuitive and energy skills, more importantly they taught me the strength of the human spirit.
Teaching became a dance of energy. They would read mine and I’d read theirs. These kids could see through anything, so a genuine nature was the only way to go. They instinctively knew energy doesn’t lie.
Early in my teaching, I made it a habit to greet the students as they entered my classroom. I could get a pretty good gauge as to who was feeling volatile and who was happy to be there. I scanned their energy because I needed to know who would “pop off” at any time and threaten the safety of everyone in the classroom. I need to know who to challenge to go further with their education and who just needed a safe place to close their eyes. I had to discern apathy from exhaustion, delusion from mental illness, disruption from avoidance. I had to know where they stood and where I stood with them.
Truthfully, many of these students would never graduate---lured by the street mentality that money was easy to come by when you needed it. It was difficult to teach students the value of education when they were making more than I was. I understood why they distrusted adults and authority---I saw them disrespected and mistreated. For them, it was more fun to live a street life. They were so entrenched in a culture where guns and clothing represented power and respect that book knowledge was dead last in this fast paced street world. It was a set of the latest Nike kicks that were going to get you street cred, not an understanding of the water cycle.
Throughout my years teaching, I taught about 500+ of these kids and I found something to love in each kid. I have to say, I didn’t do this on purpose. It just happened. The more they got to know me, the more they opened up, the more I saw the world through their eyes. Each one of them was desperately seeking to be loved. Each one wanted to be heard and acknowledged for their survival. They wanted to know they weren’t going to be judged for the way they handled their journey. Giving them this space wasn’t difficult---had I been in their shoes, I don’t know what I would have done.
I tell you about these children because we just never know who are teachers in life are going to be. I’ve come to realize, it is our greatest challenges that reveal our character and our lessons. I'm grateful for my teachers, how about you?