This is a conclusion to the post The Things That Really Matter. Click here to read the first part.
Before school started each year, the teachers in the district where I taught had to undergo 7 days of torture, otherwise known as teacher inservice. We would sit through about 5 days of meetings, and then have 2 days to work in our classrooms. Our principals' hands were tied, but they tried to make those 5 meeting days as interesting as possible.
One year we had an inspirational speaker. He was a really good speaker and very entertaining. Our school was about 95% Hispanic and he was of the same origins as many of our students. He told about growing up in a household where there wasn't much money and lots of hilarious stories about his mama. Then he went on to tell how he finished pharmacy school and fell in love. His new bride and he decided they wanted a large family. I can't remember all the details but after having a child of their own, they soon began adopting. They adopted almost all of their children from foster care. He told about a little 3 or 4 year old girl they adopted who wanted to be held all the time. While her older siblings were acting out or destroying toys to vent their feelings, this little one just wanted to be held. All. The. Time. After being in foster care, most children would get nervous whenever the family started to load up in the van to go to church, or to a bar-b-que at a friend's house. "Where are you taking us?" they would ask. It took lots of reassuring that they were not going to be dropped off anywhere, but instead the whole family was going somewhere together and then coming right back home--together. So, he understood there were a lot of security issues with these children. He made a decision about his little 3 or 4 year old hanger-on. He told himself, "I will not put her down until she is ready." Every day when he got home from work, she ran to him to be held and he held her all night until bedtime. Whether he was eating dinner, unloading the dishwasher, talking on the phone, or watching TV, all was done with his new little girl attached to his hip.
It took 4 months. One day, finally, she said, "Daddy, I want to go play." And he VERY happily sent her on her way. I was just riveted by this story. Wow. What a family! He told us that he was getting worried because his wife saw a picture of a sibling group that needed a home and their 15 passenger van was going to need to be replaced with a small tour bus. We laughed.
Then he told us, "The last 3 children we adopted came from this district. Who had Stephanie in their class?"
With goosebumps, my partner teacher and I raised our hands. He told us "thank you." I cannot even begin to tell you how I felt at that moment. This was the family Stephanie had gone to? (His wife, whom we had met, was not Hispanic and for some reason I just didn't put it all together--and it had been several years.) I was so glad and full of joy that people like this family existed. The little girl in his story had been Stephanie's little sister, by the way.
After the meeting, he stopped by our classroom to give us an update on Stephanie. He said she was reading on grade level, loved to read, was on grade level in all other areas, and was taking ballet classes. She smiled all the time and was doing great. I couldn't help but be reminded of what his wife had asked us: "Don't you think self-esteem has so much to do with it?" I admitted to him that at the time I had agreed with her, but had my doubts as to how much success Stephanie would really see in her future.
He shared with me what he had seen over and over again at his own house: when children feel loved and secure--they learn, they grow, they blossom. I just could not get over it--how could the sad little girl I had seen struggling to write the date on her paper be replaced in my mind with a happy, smiling ballerina?
And so I thought of Stephanie yesterday when I was wondering (again) if we had done "enough" school. My children are already at a HUGE learning advantage simply because they are home. They may never have to know the insecurities of middle school, of being compared to classmates who do better, of "falling behind" the state's standards. They are loved, they are secure--they will learn, grow, and blossom.
I realize not all homes are ideal environments for children. Our principal used to remind us that for some children school was the best place to be because there was air conditioning, people smiled at them, they were going to have plenty to eat, there were books to read, and they were safe. Having been on some home visits, I would agree. Money does not make an ideal learning environment--love does. If my daughters feel safe and loved--they have already met half the battle. The best programs and materials and personnel money could buy was not going to help Stephanie, until she had the other. Those things that matter most.
So, instead of worrying about not doing enough and tearing out another page for Sweetheart to do, I think we will cuddle up with a book. We will have hugs and math practice together. She will learn--and I will remember what matters most.