• Jennifer Meliton

What I didn't say.

Last week I met a class of 30 university students my school is hosting for a field experience. To begin our days, a few of the teachers and I speak to them about doing school as a teacher. It's such a privilege to work with young adults who will someday, sooner rather than later, be taking my place, and I want to fill them with all the truths they need to be prepared.

I shared that there are no typical kids, no typical parents, or typical co-workers any more than there is a typical school or home. Every part of the education system is so complex, especially the people. We talked about their fears, about throw-up, about filling a day with learning. The first session with the university students went quickly and they were off to work with our lucky kiddos.

What I didn't say, what I couldn't reveal, was the way that kids would shatter their hearts. And they do it on the daily, especially the small beans. Sometimes you can picture your actual animated heart cracking. Or shattering with spidery fractures. Or actually exploding.

Most people think of elementary as a cross between tough-mudder babysitting/hostage negotiation and crafts with sprinkles. They're not totally wrong, it's the in-between they don't see. What I didn't tell the pre-service teachers is that the kids go home with you no matter what. No matter what kind of boundaries you might try to draw, or work-life balance you might achieve, these little dudes are with you like glitter on carpet. Over the weekend you will worry about the five year-old who is with her dad this weekend. How she was afraid to leave her mom by herself because she might hurt herself.

You will shop for winter coats. Not for your student, but for their little brothers, four and two. You will Christmas shop for the kids. And sometimes for their family, too. You will creep on social media for evidence that something good was happening in someone's home.

You will develop the power of retinal scanning. Each morning your eyes will scan faces for signs of joy or despair. That is where the heart comes in, and also the art. When the kids share their excitement you can't help but feel it and experience that residual joy that fills your soul knowing they are happy. When their eyes glaze over and they tell you what didn't happen, or worse, what did, you can feel the actual weight of it sitting on your chest.

Out of those 30 college kids, a few will become principals. Their shoulders will have to be huge. What I see in kids and teachers today requires more strength than one could possibly imagine. I worry about my kids, and lately I worry as much about my teachers. I see what they are carrying because they wear it. Under their eyes, in their shoulders, the creases in their foreheads... the weights keep getting heavier.

Luckily we can create days that are temporary havens. Our classrooms are safety nets where our kids land, and bounce to their feet ready to try again. What I didn't tell them is that our kids are so little they will not always remember. On the last day of school when we watch videos of graduating seniors, they will mention their junior English teacher, but they will forget crying on our shoulders and clinging to our legs. And that's okay. We won't. We will watch their accomplishments and they will heal us.

Kintsugi is an ancient method of repairing cracked or broken pottery with gold. The gold bonds the pieces together making it not only more beautiful and valuable, but stronger. That is the heart of a teacher. You can learn about it, but only the best will earn that heart. The more cracks, the more gold. The stronger it will be. I didn't tell them, but when they returned from their 30 minutes with the kids, my advanced retinal scanner saw it. And the load was lightened again.

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