Saturday, June 4, 2016

That One Student.....

"Frankly, there isn't anyone you couldn't learn to love once you've heard their story," said the lovely Fred Rogers.

Well said, Mr. Rogers.  I completely agree and would even take it a step further, and say that the more we know someone's story- the heartbreak, the highs, the lows, the triumphs, the good, the bad, the ugly, the more wholeheartedly we will love them.

I guess that's why I created this blog.  To write about my students and their stories.  In stories, we find connection and meaning and love.

I've been kind of restless and crabby all week.  Feeling sick, exhausted, and overwhelmed with everything I need to get done before the end of the school year in one week.  I literally lost my voice which is like a nail in the coffin for a teacher.  I'm in that uncomfortable place where I know the end is coming and there IS a light at the end of the tunnel, but I still can't see beyond the piles of work demanding to be done.

I just got back from a walk.  The sunshine and the movement helped burn off some of the stress.

And, thoughts of students kept coming to the surface.

And, I realized that more than anything, I'm stressed about saying good-bye to them.  We get so close to our students throughout the year.  They're with us all day and like it or not, we're like a family.And, so, I see now that my stress is more about the anxiety of saying good-bey and trusting that they'll be okay, than anything else.

I worry about them.  I fret about those students exiting from our program.  I hope we prepared them enough for the next stage.  I know I have to let go, but it's very difficult.

And, I worry the most that other teachers will miss the genius and specialness of them.  I want to make sure that they have people on their side, who see how remarkable they are, to help them uncover their potential.

Of course,  I care about them all, but there are a few students who have wormed their way really deeply into my heart.

I feel a a particular lump in my throat when I think of one such student.

She came to us late last spring so stayed with us this school year as well.  She knew very little English, but from the beginning she seemed to be trying hard to connect to us and communicate with us.  She would cut up these strange little shapes and then fold them into tiny squares and write "I love you" all over them.

At first, we were pretty worried about her- we knew her family had fled a war, lived as refugees in a kind of awful limbo in another country, and she likely had experienced trauma.  Once she started to settle in and the culture shock started to ebb, and she had a little more English, we started to see her true little self emerge.

She's everything I love in a teenage girl-feisty, outspoken, passionate, spunky, hard-working, resilient, sweet, kind-hearted, funny, and even sarcastic.

I've seen her sweep a whole chess game onto the floor in anger and collapse sobbing in a corner because it wasn't fair that she lost a game. And then I saw her play a game for over an hour with patience and determination and grace at the state chess tournament.  The only hijab in the entire room that I could see bent over in concentration.

And, I've seen her do cannonballs into the school swimming pool with such glee and joy, you wished you could bottle that kind of enthusiasm.  And, I saw her glow and sparkle and light up when I chaperoned the chess team to the state tournament and we stayed in a hotel.  Everything was amazing to her- all the pillows, the Disney movies she could watch on TV, the swimming pool, eating take out in the room, making waffles for breakfast.   And, she made me appreciate these things  that I so take for granted.

She's the Muslim girl, who came to us one morning in December and said with huge and glowing eyes, "Miss, I loooooove Christmas!  Lights. Pretty."

Her favorite word is "cute",  And, at least once a week she tells me, "You so cute today, Miss."

This week we went on our big end of year picnic and I got to watch her enjoy s'mores for the first time in her life.  And, her mother made delicate little pastries for her to give the teachers and my mom, dad, and sister who helped us out.

When I lost my voice she talked incessantly to me about how to cure it-- googling images for words she didn't know in English like ginger.

And, then of course, the next morning, she came to school with a little thermos of some healing concoction her mother made for me- honey, ginger, and who knows what else???  I drank it, of course.  It was soothing and full of  love and concern.  Just the idea that a busy mom of five who doesn't have much would take the time to make her child's teacher a drink for her throat, makes my heart clench.

Most moving of all, is that in the last few weeks she has talked more about the dark side of her journey than ever before to us.

Her father had allowed her to bring his iPhone on the trip to take pictures.  On the bus to and from our field trip, she was interviewing her cousin in English- asking simple questions like "What's your name?  How old are you?"  They thought they were really hilarious- just like most middle-school girls.

She came and wedged herself into my bus seat on the way back, and said, "Can you talk?" Remember, I lost my voice.  I couldn't really, but I did it anyway.  She asked me a series of questions and then ended with "I love you."  "I love you too,"  I said and gave her arm a squeeze.

We started talking about her country and how her family fled as their city was being bombed.

She talked about walking to another country and only walking at night so they wouldn't be shot.

Surreal words to hear from a teenage girl on a school bus after a picnic on a beautiful sunny day.

I told her the only things I really could, "I'm so sorry that happened to you and your family.  You're all very brave.  It's very good for you to talk about it- to get it out.  I'm so happy you're here now and that you're safe."

"Are you happy?," I asked her.

"Yes, Miss, so happy,"  she said and leaned back in her seat and ever so lightly against my shoulder.

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