Of course, I love teaching The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and showing my students why Twain is a genius. Of course, I love reading a spectacular student essay that we worked on for weeks. Of course, I love listening to students have thoughtful, insightful discussions about things that matter. Yet, what I love about teaching are the connections I make with students. The moments that fill my heart with joy both when they are happening and sometimes years later.
Wednesday my students were working on creating a playlist for The Pearl. They had to come up with a song that represented each chapter and write an explanation to support their choice. It was the perfect assignment for the end of the year. The kids could socialize and listen to music while working on the assignment. The room was filled with happy chatter. As I walked around checking in with and talking with students, I noticed one of my students sitting alone. She was working on her project, but something seemed a little off. I walked over to her, put my hand on her back and cheerfully asked her if she was okay. Honestly, what I was expecting was "I'm fine. I'm just really tired today." That's not what I got. "My dog died today," she whispered. That's when I looked at her face and realized it was stained with tears.
My heart instantly sank. I quickly sat down in the chair next to her, and she began to talk. Her family had had the dog since before she was born. She pulled out her phone and showed me several pictures of him. Then she told me about some other tragedies that her family and friends had recently endured. I listened. All I could think was, "This poor little girl lost her beloved dog today, and she's in my class trying her best to get this project done."
After class, I thought about what a reminder this little incident was for me as a teacher. We need to take the time to connect with our students every day. We have no idea what kids are going through in their personal lives when they enter our classrooms. Many times we are too busy teaching to stop and ask kids how they are doing. Granted, sometimes it's none of our business, but sometimes kids want to talk. Sometimes they need to talk.