Friday, November 11, 2016

Grace Under Pressure: America's Teachers

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, the day after the most contentious presidential election in our recent memory,
was a school day.

School teachers and principals everywhere had to find a way, any way, to create unity in a time of division and open cruelty.

Donald Trump is now the President.

Donald Trump - who acted throughout the entire election season in a disrespectful, antagonistic, loud-mouthed, divisive way - won.

So, teachers who work on holding their students to standards of respect, tolerance and kindness for the first time had to look at their President and then look away.

Then they had to enter their classrooms and find a way to change the message.

As the universe would have it, I had to be in classrooms that day.
Normally, in the fall, I only go into classrooms on Mondays and Tuesdays, but because of a scheduling glitch I had to be there this Wednesday.

I like to think of it as divine intervention.

I was melancholy watching so much hatred and vitriol and as someone who loves children - hangs out with children all the time - I couldn't comprehend this new reality for them.
For us.

What would school be like?
What would my student teachers face?
How could a school create unity when the country was so divided?

How can you hold kids accountable when the adults in the room are acting anything but?

I walked onto an elementary school campus and was greeted with three third graders marching and saying: "We need a recount. Recount. Recount."
Who even knows that word in third grade?

I walked into a classroom before school had even started and found two veteran teachers in tears...and my student teacher just quietly watching.

"What do we tell the students?
How can we ask our students to behave with kindness and respect when we have this President?"

Good questions.

But time was ticking.
They didn't have a script.
No instruction manual...
students were coming.

Deep breaths.
Game faces on.

Good morning.

I watched it unfold in classroom after classroom.

Sat in awe as teachers comforted and listened.

Sometimes they gathered their students together and reaffirmed for them that this school in this place was safe and most importantly was theirs.

Sometimes they talked about democracy and founding fathers and the idea that every single one of us gets a vote.

I watched a student teacher guarantee her students safety, tolerance and respect in such a commanding way that I got teary eyed taking my notes with her words.
She helped her students see the beauty in our nation...
in our equality...
in our traditions and our government.

She offered every student herself.

If they didn't feel safe;
if they felt like they wanted to talk;
if they wanted to share a story...
she was there to listen.

I know a teacher who took the last part of the day to make friendship bracelets.
"Go ahead and work on a bracelet and think about who you will give it to in this classroom."

We are all friends here.

That guidance.
That steady hand.
Those loving arms.
Big hearts.
Listening ears...
that's what happened in school today.

All around the country, America's teachers steadied the course.
They went to work...
picking up the pieces and creating a beautiful mosaic.

Holding the expectations high.
Showing children what it means to be American.

These incredible people are stitching our children together,
binding them with love and kindness.

Living tolerance.
Breathing respect.
Inhaling peace.
Exhaling chaos.

If you want to know where to look during this time of disequilibrium and division...stop at a school.

Watch a teacher in action.
Listen to her big book about friendship.
Let the music of children's voices float over you.
Rise to the expectations of a child's best version of you.

We can do this.

We have their example.

Follow their rules:

Be safe.
Be productive.
Be kind.

America's teachers offer all of us a glimpse of extraordinary grace
during the least ordinary of times.

All we can do is follow their lead.