It all started when little Alejandro attempted to interrupt me during journal time. Tugging on my sweater like a tenacious gnat and smelling like a recently eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich, he looked up at me and said, "I'm done with my work, Miss Mimi. Here it is!"
*putting on teacher voice* "What do we do when we're finished with our work, Alex? (and not letting him finish..) ..."we put it in our folder, right?"
"Yes, Miss Mimi...but..."
"So you go ahead and leave it there and I'll check it in a few minutes."
A dejected Alejandro dropped my sweater sleeve like a jilted mosquito and walked away with folder in hand.
*putting on teacher BRAIN*
Wait a minute. Alejandro never even does his work much less finishes it! I need to see that folder and I need to see it now. What has he written? What is going on? What is he trying to tell me? Is the school on fire??! It must be important or he wouldn't have stopped crashing paper airplanes long enough to write anything. Write? Write? Wait... He had a pencil???!!
This is serious.
"Alejandrooooooo.... Alejaaaaannnndro.....would you come back up here please? I would love to see what you've written in your folder today. I'm so proud that you've finished it."
He beamed. He walked. He handed over the evidence. I tried to disguise my skepticism. He's written exactly 4 sentences (4 days work) in three weeks you see. I had reason for disbelief.
I opened his Daily Gratitude Journal and this is what I saw...
Have you ever wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there until the rapture?
My eyes welled with tears. My faced flushed with embarrassment. My heart hurt. None of that mattered though. Alejandro was beaming at me. And I drank it in like the nectar of loveliness I so desperately needed at that very moment.
*putting on teacher HEART*
"I am grateful for you too, Alex. Thank you! This means so much to me.
And this is excellent work today."
More beaming. More shuffling. More peanut butter breath.
It was reading day. I put on some calming piano music and all the kids wore witch hats and costumes, huddled in the corners with Harry Potter and R. L. Stine, Chicken Soup books I'd found at a yard sale and everything in between. Quiet. Noses in books. Pillows on the floor. Sprawled and entwined all over each other with books in their hands. It was a beautiful sight.
And me with my journal and pen nestled underneath my own book choice, trying to scramble my thoughts on paper before I lost the feeling of magic I got when Alejandro taught me to pay attention to sweater tugs and big brown eyes of impatience.
I watched him throughout the rest of class. He was a different little boy. Reading. Obeying. Not an airplane in sight. And why? I needed to figure it out. Why was he so compliant and eager to please me?
And then it hit me.
It must have been yesterday. While the rest of the class finished independent vocabulary work, I'd sat by him for about 20 minutes, helping him find definitions and spell new words. He was behind (as usualllll) and he needed to catch up. "You've got it now, Alex. That's right. Good job..... Yes! I like the way you used context clues to figure that one out. Wow. You're almost finished....Keep going. You can do it... and on and on..."
I remember him looking up at me at one point as if to say, "Well, Duh, Miss Mimi. I'm smart ya know."
The more I praised him, the harder he worked. He was quick and smart, eager to learn and giddy to finish his work like the others. Determined.
So that was it. He needed my attention.
Plain and simple. He just wanted my attention.
He wanted me to be proud of him.
I thought about all the moments in my life when I'd been quick to dismiss people because I was too busy to look, too distracted by the endless tasks and expectations to really listen to them, too battle-scarred myself to want to hear another word from the non-compliant airplane throwers of the world. Tired. Worn out from the day. Overwhelmed.
I may not be on target every day as a teacher. I am not a perfect teacher. I am not a perfect human being. But I'm learning to love my imperfections and embrace what they teach me. My impatience met his impatience. His brown eyes were large and needy. So are mine.
And what is it that he needs more than perfect vocabulary?
Miss Mimi's love.
So tomorrow? And the next day and the day after that I'll make eye contact with Alejandro, even if just for two seconds, even if I'm surrounded by a thousand other little munchkins. I'll praise him for something, even if it has to be the way he made that plane beautifully curve through the air of my classroom. Even if....
Because that's all he needs.
And I can do that.
Join us for BlogBlast For Peace Nov 4