Tangibles

A few weeks ago my Inclusive Education cohort at the University of Regina got into a passionate debated over the use of cell phones in the classroom.

Sigh

Part of me feels like this is such a tired and old discussion. Yet, at other times, I know, because the discussion was filled with confusion, and because of comment’s like, “Aren’t you afraid of kids having your cell number?” and, “It’s just too personal,” these discussions are still needed.

But the discussion only focused on kids and cell phones, and so often a whole other group other than the kids gets missed: families.

I also encourage my kids’ families to connect. And not only with their kids, but with me: stay in touch with your kids, stay in touch often with me and stay up-to-date with what and how we’re doing here in the class.

In fact, connecting with families, I think, is almost as important as connecting with our students. And I try my best to make certain this begins with face-to-face connections.

It’s how we begin to grow as a classroom family. 

We listen and we connect. We chat and we connect. We share and we connect. We  connect and we trust. It’s pretty amazing, really.

Many of the adults in my kids’ lives like to stay in contact with the school. For me, emails tend to be long, and like many of my teaching colleagues, I’m busy. 140 characters or so feels just about the perfect length.

Last Sunday, though, as I was busy working on a University paper, my cell phone lit up.

“We called you first.”

The key adults for one of my student’s were calling to share news that my student had decided to move. The student’s key adults were concerned and, to say the least, sad too. For the past ten months, for many hours a day, for this family, I’ve been another caring adult. Last Sunday, they needed someone with whom to share their concerns.

After all, aren’t we as teachers connecting too? Doesn’t that start with building a sense of classroom family? Are we or are we not then connected beyond the students in our rooms.

I listened while they shared the events that led to my student’s decision to move, and I agreed, yes, I’d love to come for supper and say good bye. And then, I set the phone down and cried. 

I cried for my student’s best friend who needs him. I cried for the basketball team who will miss him. I cried for the drum set in our homeroom that will stay silent next fall. I cried because my kid is leaving. I cried because I wonder if, as my student steps towards his teachers next fall, scared and lost, and asks for support, will he find it? Will he seek it? Has he learned well enough to use his words and ask for what he needs?

I cried for my boy.

Make no mistake, I am a teacher. I am not a counsellor or a social worker, but you bet, I am a community member and a friend, and just as I am with my own girl, I am always a mom. I cried because I used to think it was OK for my kids to leave, but I’m learning the ‘OK’ feels only ‘OK’ when they are in grade 12. It’s ‘OK’ when we’ve shared all the stories we need to share, when they are almost grown, and this sure doesn’t feel near to ‘OK’ to me. 

Like my student’s loving supportive caregivers, we all need more time.

Every day, my student was a gift galloping in the front doors, questioning, challenging, smiling, wondering, offering, encouraging.

So last Sunday, I answered my cell phone and listened while my student’s key adults here, shared about their boy who has spent the previous week walking around the house in his school jersey, set to step away…

They asked nothing from me, but to come for a meal. And I agreed.

For me, teaching and learning lives in personal connections. Always has, always will. If you share a story with me, spend a period in my room, hike with me, you’ll soon come to know, I’m irrationality crazy about my kid(s). My kids’ families know it and they value our classroom family.

Sherman Alexie states in my favourite middle-years book, “Nervous means you want to play. Scared means you don’t want to play.” I’m in this profession because giving voice to youth matters most to me. I am unable to separate educator from being a mom, a friend, a learner, a child or a woman. And sure, I am always nervous. And nervous is a good, good thing. It makes me cautious and caring, and better planned, and more passionate, and more fiercely resilient than I can possible express. Mostly, it keeps me focused on putting the needs of kids first.

So here is what I’ll share…

I’ll let my student know that he always has us, his team, and that our classroom door will always remain open. The family of our classroom is tangible, after all.

I’ll tell him how proud we are of him. And more importantly, that he has friends here, and a family here, that needs him and loves him very much. And that this family and this family love includes me too.

I’ll remind him how successful he has been here both in school and out of school, and that I believe he will find those same successes there, too. I’ll tell him to never forget the finale of the winter concert, the elaborate breakfasts on the field trip, the 33-year-old provincial track record that he shattered, the conference basketball finals his team played in for the first time in our school’s memory, and the beauty of the poem of the girl on the swing, because after all, all of that belongs to him.

And I’ll hug him and I’m sure I’ll cry. I’ll make certain that he knows I’m really here too, and then I’ll make certain he has my cell number. 

And then, I’ll let my boy go.

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