Late last week, a grade twelve student wandered into my room. He was smiling. He had his term one report card. Graduation looked promising. “Miss Saas. I want you to come to grad.”
“Oh, I’m coming to grad!”
“Yeah, but I want you to sit with my family.”
I set down my book. I really looked at him. “Chris, I would love to sit with your family.”
He smiled. That same smile I treasured every day in Science 10, both times, the same smile I saw that year while I helped him craft a marathon essay for his freshman English course, and the next year, as he wondered into my room, sharing drafts of short stories for his senior Creative Writing course. That same smile he shared when he’d wave to me from Smoker’s Alley, that same smile he’d share heading into the Mechanic’s shop, and that same smile he shared slipping the finished copy of a short story he wrote in his spare time, onto my desk. “Yeah, but I want to pay for your ticket.”
Teeth wider than all 24 credits.
“Chris, I would be honoured.”
Before he turned to go, pretending to be sheepish, and maybe he still was, “Miss Saas. You’re my favourite teacher.”
One of the most power forces is believing in another person. Absolutely believing in them. A loving them, no matter what, living-it-out-loud believing sort of way.
One of the cruelest things we do to each other is not telling each other how much we love each other person, either deliberately or inadvertently.
And though love doesn’t cure everything, it comes pretty darn close. and cruelty never does.
The rub: doubt is almost a force as fierce as love. Or sometimes, it certainly feels this way.
As a high school Student Support teacher, I worked with Mic, a student who needed a quiet place to learn, away from his traditional learning spaces.
As we came to know each other, I attended to a story of doubt that Mic carried. As my days living alongside Mic moved forward, I watched doubt creep deeply into the stories he lived and told of himself. Soon Mic’s one period a day out of class turned to almost four periods a day. Mic and I often shared. Home was difficult for him. He didn’t feel he belonged. He spoke of feeling unloved, worthless. Often, Mic spent days, sometimes weeks living with friends. Yet, Mic always returned home. He always returned home….
I am thinking deeply about Mic’s story of returning. Don’t we all seek some sort of sense of a return? Some sort of sense of home?
I am thinking about my need to return. I ache to love and to belong, and to strive to find this for those I care about. I remember how deeply disconnected I felt to my school and to teaching over the summer and how I remember my mom remarking, “Put your head down. Do your good work. Trust in the kids.” I am wondering about my need to talk things though. Oh, how perfectly delicious a belonging space feels.
Maybe, I am not much more than an older High School student getting Math help during lunches, taking Advanced English courses, spending too much time in the Art room because the teacher listens, trying, trying to hold calm my teenaged tornado-ing of stories of home. Maybe.
Then came that Friday.
Mic’s parents had been talking about having him move elsewhere, that the change might sort out the challenges he seemed to going through. The days and weeks of moving as-cure-chat weighed on him. That Friday he walked in already midway through a no-one-cares-rant. I was sitting beside a younger student, working through polynomials. The younger student was frustrated; that period Mic was supposed to be in a different class. I was frustrated too. I looked sat up away from the math, “Mic, you know, please try, I just don’t want you to have to go.”
Hearing love changes our world.
To me, this was small. I wanted Mic to return to Science. I needed to return to the grade nine beside me, then the other eight students in the room who needed me too. In fact, up until then, I thought he knew I cared. Like I inadvertently believe all my students do. But words spoken aloud, are more. They are big.
He put his head down. Kind of wiped his eyes, after a few moments he pushed his phone across the desk, towards me, a sign he was going to the washroom, and left. When he returned we brainstormed ways to talk with his parents.
I know how devastating it can feel to know and feel a parent’s distrusts. Thankfully too, I understand the beauty of having a parent’s full support.
But I have 30 more years at sorting this through than Mic. And truthfully, though I know I am loved, even now doubt sometimes manages to niggle its way in.
Months past, exams came. I sat beside Mic and told him clearly, deliberately that he mattered, that knowing him had been a gift of the first semester. There is such solace around our tables, in our shared stories. I told him I was grateful for him.
There is such a loud beautiful story of belonging in knowing we matter.
I am thinking about Chris. Oh! You bet I am going to grad! Of course I am. Truth is, I bought a navy dress last month. And shoes. With heals. And I hate dresses. And heels. But my boy is graduating! I remember every story he’s written. And that one he placed on my desk, that one about his mom, how, all on her own, she put the family back together, how she stayed, how he is so proud to be her son. How Chris understands being an only child and having a fierce mom. I still have the original story that I copied and walked upstairs to show to the senior English Language Arts teacher to say, here, I know he’s that kid, that kid who is so often not here, but read this. I remember this spring and feeling like my work didn’t matter, that maybe that was the same as me not mattering, that it was time to move on, just feeling unsettled. And then I remember Chris, my first week back after surgery, shouting the length of the Welding Wing, “I love you, Miss Saas,” and I remember every hallway wave that followed. And I remember just before he smiled his way out the room last week, he looked at me and said, “Thank you, Miss Saas.”
In the end, leave words of love. Leave them deliberately. Fiercely and often. Leave them wildly. Everywhere. Recklessly.
But make certain. Oh, make certain to leave them.
Because who am I kidding, love changes everything.