So, the thing, the amazing thing, about being a kindergarten teacher in the same school for several years is that you get to watch your students grow up, see them continue to learn and grow. You get to see their smiles in the hallways, and if you’re really lucky, they keep hugging you whenever they see you, even when they are too old, and too cool, to hug their own classroom teachers.
And the thing, the really really hard thing, about being a kindergarten teacher in the same school for several years is that you see your students when they struggle, when they stumble, when they fall apart and get lost, and there is so little you can do.
You walk into a classroom, and there he is, a child you poured your heart and soul into. His desk apart from everyone else, his head down. You ask him how he is and his eyes slide away from yours.
“I’m okay, Mme.”
“Are you sure, you seem sad…?”
“Yeah, Mme, I’m…. ok.”
And then you see it – the invisible curtain over his eyes, the one you worked so hard to raise, is back down again. And there is a big scratch on his cheek and he doesn’t remember where it came from. And his shirt is stained. And his hands are clenched. And there are toothmarks up and down his pencil.
And it’s not because of his teacher. You know her. She is a good teacher, with a heart as big as the sky.
But you worry. You worry that he has become invisible even to her.
Because you know him. You know how difficult it is to love him, and even more difficult to like him. He is not cuddly. He rarely smiles. He is often grubby. His work is messy. There are no spontaneous hugs or burst of affection. There are no love notes. There is no drive to be your helper or to earn your approval. There is only survival, an instinct to make himself safe, and anger that leaks out in drips and drabs.
And what you really want to do is scoop him up and run him back to your classroom, where the curtain over his eyes came up, and once in a while you saw a glimmer of a smile, and on one, single, miraculous day that you will never forget, he once folded a paper airplane, wrote your name on it, left it on your desk.
So you give his shoulder a squeeze and you leave him. You go back to your desk and you cry hot tears while you google “paper airplanes”. You carefully fold one. You write his name on it.
And in the heart of the deepest crease, you write a single “x.” A single “o.” A single heart.
At lunch time you leave it on his desk.
And you hope that he will know.