Have you ever made a teacher cry? For me, it was Mrs. Whickam, the meanest teacher in the second grade. I felt like dirt when I found out that she had fled from our classroom to her car, crying.----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
"If you want better things, I want you to have them."
-Rilo Kiley, from Go On
His eyes are the deepest of browns, almost black. They are like cartoon eyes. Outlined in black, with a lot of white, and a solid black circle in the middle. I have been trying to reach out to the young boy on the other side of these orbs of mystery for a few months. At first, they were violent and angry eyes. For a time, they were sad, pouty eyes. Sometimes they are restless. They dart from person to person, to every distraction imaginable. They are eyes that have seen too much already. They are eyes that are not enjoyed often enough.
He is three. He has a little sister, a single working mom, and rarely sees his unstable father. He does not have a house. He lives wherever mom is staying- with auntie, grand daddy, or mom's boyfriend. He is my student.
Last week, he made my eyes-- adult eyes, become angry, and then crying eyes. He must have been having a rough time at home. And he was, as I later found out. The afternoon had been peachy. A rough patch arose when the kids sat for half an hour without snack arriving to our classroom. They all became restless. Loud. Unresponsive to calming activities.
On top of the frustration I was feeling because of my rowdy class of preschoolers, there was him. He would not be calmed, and became a threat to his own safety, as well as the safety of his friends. It was awful. And ugly. And overwhelming. And any good teacher would have sailed right through the storm, but not me. I couldn't do it. I cracked.
I let slip my angriest tears and passed out cups of water to shocked little faces. I led songs to pass the time, stony-faced and deadened eyes. I had been broken. They all knew it.
We went outside. The breeze was too cold to stay out long. "Park the bikes and get in line!" The children grouped together at the door and began to throw some gathered leaves into the air.
You know me. I did think it was beautiful to watch kids laugh and throw leaves in the air together. It is a bit poetic. But, there is nothing poetic about getting dirt and sticks and leaves stuck in little eyes. One girl began to cry because her cough hurt.
With much resistance and some leaves thrown in my face, I got them to get into a line and cease the leaf war. But he was not there. On the other side of the playground, around a corner I could not see past, he hid on a play scape and would not come. Dilema. Leave my group of children unattended? Or leave him unattended? Neither would come to each other. I ran over to him. I begged him, cajoled him, demanded that he get in line. His eyes were elsewhere. Scared eyes, lost eyes. Little baby eyes that shouldn't know how to rebel like this. I cracked again. I couldn't catch him or drag him off. I felt helpless. "You get in that line! Go!" I screamed and he watched me cry. Where was he?
I don't know what was going on in his mind while he watched me struggle to get him to obey. We never know the secrets of children who are that small. What has he seen already? What does he think will happen if he acts one way or another? Does he enjoy watching me breakdown? Is that his intent? Does it make him happy? Does it scare him? Was he me at some time-- screaming to be heard but meeting dead eyes in response?
I didn't see him for the rest of the day. Another teacher flew out to grab him after I finally summoned for help. I shepherded my kids to our class and tried to clean off my face. The rest of the day was uneventful, besides the kids telling their friends that Miss Sara had cried today because he had been bad.
I went home defeated. Angry. Overwhelmed. No puedo. I can't. Do anything. Do my job. Stay strong. Be the gentle guidance that they need. No puedo hacerlo. I can't do it. I wanted to walk away from my job as quickly as possible. I wanted to stay angry at him and the parents who are failing miserably to raise him, for a very long time. I wanted to forget working with children whose parent's sorry circumstances cause their children to be so neglected.
When I reflect on Jesus' command that we pray for our enemies, I always draw a blank. Who is my enemy? I am likable, I feel. It has been a long time since I have had an enemy. I don't think it is unreasonable that I began to feel like he, and a couple of children who are as difficult as him, are my enemies. I know they are not intentionally malicious. Yet, just because they do not intend to be that way, does not excuse that their behavior is, in fact, malicious. It is hateful, just not intentional. They were taught to act that way, and I am angry about it.
I prayed for my anger to be forgiven, and then, in humility, prayed for him, my enemy. "Please, Lord, let him have a good day. Let us have a good day together."
You want to know what he wants? He doesn't even know, he just wants. He does not understand that my rules are to protect him, not to punish him. He is a little body that cannot make sense of anything that is going on, and he just wants. Rules. Safety. Touch. Healthy food. Mom. Dad. Home. Friends. Fun. He just wants and remains unsatisfied. He wants something better, like love and a home to look forward to going to. Do you know that when a friend makes him mad he tells them that they cannot go to his house? He doesn't have a house! He wants to be a football player and go to dances with pretty girls. He acts it out all the time.
He has broken my heart. I am sadder than I was. There is a more serious reason for going to work now, with a bit of suffering included. This is where my words fail me. I guess I can't explain this, really. Anyway, I will not flee from my preschoolers just yet. Though I may be a lightweight when it comes to disciplining and handling a group of children-- especially ones of this sort, I want to be challenged. I want to see if I can really love them, even when it seems that they are my enemies. I want to see my prayers answered. I want to see some fruit of my labor. I want to see that God can still work through me. I want to see him have better things, even if it is just a good day at school.