Friday, August 24, 2012

The Tenderness of Teachers

Fresh crayons and pencils awaiting their students.

"One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings.  The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child."  
-- Carl Jung

My kids have started school, just barely, and some of my student teachers from last year have classrooms of their own -- these bits of my heart are in classrooms all over the place -- and I want to acknowledge the beginning point.  We've got clean slates right now.  No huge transgressions have happened, no bad choices, no impulse control issues.  That is the beauty of the new year and I am grateful for it.

I'm grateful for the fresh pencils, the stacks of construction paper lovingly ready for art projects, the tubs filled with books or crayons and the clean desks.  I'm grateful for the fresh start of every single new year in's one of my favorite parts of teaching.  We all get to start over, make new goals and create new dreams.

Caroline is in first grade this year.  She's pretty easy going and pretty non demanding...after all she's fourth in line in her family so she's used to waiting her turn and helping herself.  The third day of school though, life was hard for Caroline.  She was scootering to school, fast and frenzied, the way she likes to do it and she bit the dust...full on wipe out.  The girl is quick on her feet and pretty steady on a scooter so she was shocked, sad and hurt.  We ditched the scooter and I carried my crying girl the rest of the way to school.  We stopped at the front office and I cleaned up her scraped knee, placed the ever-crucial band aid and walked over to the first graders lining up just outside of their classroom.  

Caroline tried to get it together.  Her red face and tear stained cheeks gave away that it had been a rough start but she was trying to calm down and then, she saw her teacher and the tears started all over again, and the quiet sobs.  So sad.  My mother's heart was aching with the wish of whisking her away but I knew I had to keep with the routine and get her to class.  Her teacher came up to her and wrapped her arm around her while I told the story of the sad scooter wipe out.

Her teacher looked her in the eyes and said something so comforting, so simple and so brilliant: "Caroline, I have a special chair in my room for times like these.  You can sit in it and feel better.  I'm sorry that happened.  Come with me."

A special chair. 
 Even I, a veteran teacher and wise to the ways of teacher tricks, wanted to spy the special chair.  What did it look like?  Could I get one for at home?  Where is it?

Caroline composed herself and set off in search of the special chair.  She barely looked back.  And I had to be satisfied with the comforting and healing of the special chair.  I had to put my faith in a kind teacher and let my baby girl go -- skinned knee and everything.

As I walked back home with a scooter, I pondered the special chair.  We all need moments of tenderness and kindness.  For a teacher, we ache to soothe the owies and help our students but we feel the time pressure of so many needy students and we worry about anything taking away from class time.  The special chair is a beautiful way to give that tenderness and acknowledgement without skipping a beat.  It lets the student feel heard and helped and yet it takes nothing away from the others.  

When Caroline got home I asked her about the special chair.  She said it was the rolly, comfy chair that the teacher sits in at the reading table.  That's it.  No decorations, no fancy paint...just a chair...provided in a difficult moment.

And that's when it struck me.  That's the difference between great teachers and the rest of us.  They are regular people doing their job but they know when to pause and offer the special chair.  They recognize that not much learning can get done if the heart is wounded.  They find ways to reach the heart of the student before trying to teach the brain.  If a student knows and feels that the teacher truly cares, tremendous things can happen...crazy amounts of learning and incredible amounts of personal growth. If not, students stagnate or worse, they wither. 

Today I am grateful for the tenderness of teachers.  Beginning teachers, veteran teachers and even grizzled college professors, I'm blessed to know so many truly gifted teachers.  Teachers who offer the special chair at just the right moment.  Thank you for your hard work, your kindness and for taking the time to truly see your students.  You make the world a better place.


  1. I am so glad Caroline has such a special teacher.

  2. LOVE this post...of course I'm partial to ones about great, inspiring teachers like Caroline's first grade teacher...What a gem!!! LOVE this story & love how you captured a small moment so beautifully.

  3. Awww Katie...thanks! Hope your school year is going well. I can't wait to hear all about it! And I just know that you are such a special teacher to all of your third graders. :)