the stories of our lives

atoz_assessmentI attended a private school growing up, as I have said. Private school was a “safe” environment — at least it was for a goodie-goodie like me.

The elementary school I work at now is not private. There are three kindergarten classes, three first grade classrooms, three second grade classrooms. Third, fourth, and fifth graders attend an identical school down the street. More than 60 percent of our students are Hispanic. More than forty percent do not live with their parents.

Last week, *Marius was thrown out of school. He’d been a problem all year, had barricaded himself in the bathroom and was stuffing toilet paper into all of the toilets. He refused to come out, and, when he finally did, was chased down and taken to the office to wait for his grandmother. Marius has blond curls and blue eyes and baby chub. Marius is in kindergarten.

Aaron was unwanted as an infant. He was passed from foster home to foster home until he was adopted by an older couple at age three. He has reactive attachment disorder and steals things and lies about it. He grabs and bites and kicks and doesn’t understand why the other kids don’t like him. He takes medication and falls asleep at school every day. Aaron is five.

Lacy was born with a cleft lip. She lived in a van with her mother while her mom was on drugs and a prostitute last year. Lacy lives with her aunt and grandparents now. She is incredibly athletic. She told her teacher that her mom will be in prison until she’s ten.

Sarah’s mother has been in and out of her life for years now. Her father is in the military, and when he’s away, she goes to foster care. Despite her noticeable beauty, Sarah is slow to smile and seems unsure of herself.

Darius stays up until 2 a.m. playing Mortal Kombat. He “used to have bad grades, ‘a long time ago’ when he was in preschool,” but now, he says, he’s a much better student. He’s missing both his front teeth. His reddish-brown freckles are an exact match of his eyes and buzzed-cut hair.

CN0609 Girl watches tv screen.Madison was adopted and has older brothers. She receives little attention at home and will do anything, anything to be noticed at school. This includes misbehaving, stealing things, blurting instead of raising her hand, lying, and more.

Darren comes to school with only a bag of potato chips. He gets upset at snack time and calls his mother a bitch. He’s slow to learn and says he’s fat (he’s not), and, last Christmas, told his teachers he wished he were dead. When some of his classmates were going to kill a bug one day at recess, however, he intervened. “Don’t! Don’t kill it!” he said. “Animals are s’posed to be a-live!!” Darren has stolen my heart.

And, as I watch these children, and watch how they interact with each other; and when I realize that there was a time when someone had to explain to me what a “tattle tale” was, and that “ea” usually makes the long ē sound, as in “eat,” but can also sometimes sound like ā, as in “great”; and as I realize that home is where children are supposed to feel cherished and safe, but that, for some of them, home is anything but . . . I wonder what will become of these children, and at how some are so lucky while others are not; and I am amazed by the heart of teachers (with their early gray hair and never-ending pools of patience); and I am thoughtful of my own upbringing, and of the person I became, and of the things that have made me “me.”

All children are special. All deserve to be loved. All of us were once children. All of us have a story to to tell — some of us just have harder stories than others.


*All names have been changed.

**Images: Google

17 thoughts

    • Thanks for reading them, Dan. There are kids just like these everywhere. When I was a kid, in my sheltered environment, the adults around me used to boast, “Look at these kids! They are our next generation.” And that’s the thing. It’s true. These kids *are* our next generation, but, if we look around us and see society failing, it’s not a wonder why. When kids are brought up scared and insecure, with few good role models to look up to, well . . . Much of life is up to us, but a lot of it isn’t, too.

  1. I think way to much and analyze the world around me. I often wonder how do you change poverty or what makes someone not achieve. We all love the story of the person who overcomes huge hurdles to become something bigger.

    I think in some cases, the parents and people around them have stopped seeing. They see the paycheck, the time clock, a bag of weed, but they really have never seen the faces of their child.

    When my ex and I split up, my life changed to a whirl wind of shared custody. I can still remember the sad look on my sons face when I dropped him off and had to hug him good-bye. That look rules my life. He is my top priority. Sadly, some never grasp that and see their children only as a long list of things they have.

    Kudos to the parents who do care and do their best with the limited resources that they have.

    • I have a lot of the same questions, Steve, and think a lot like you. I am intensely curious about what makes us, us. How much of who we are is the environment in which we were raised, the people who surrounded us, and how much of it is actually who we are — the fibers of our being? You’re right that we like stories about people who overcome great obstacles. And what makes the difference between the ones who succeed and the ones who don’t? I just don’t know…

      I’m so sorry to hear about your ex and your son. I know you’ve mentioned it before, but… I’m glad you have made your son your top priority. And, yes, it makes me so sad to see parents who don’t. That’s part of the reason I am hesitant to have kids, honestly. Bringing another life into this world is a huge responsibility! And I wish more parents saw it that way. Your kids can’t be part of your “to-do” list in the same way your spouse can’t be part of your “to-do” list. People don’t work that way.

  2. I’m currently a college freshman majoring in early education, hoping to teach 1st grade. I know it will be hard. I know not every child comes from the perfect family. But reading these stories just adds to my passion to teach these kids. My mom works at an elementary school and she always tells me “some kids do not come to school to learn, they come to be loved”. My hope is to become a that teacher that shows the kids so much love they don’t know what to do. Thanks for writing this :)

    • Aww, thank you so much for reading! I know you’ll be a great 1st grade teacher. They definitely take a lot of patience, but mostly you’re right — they need love! I have learned a lot watching the teacher I’m working with now. She’s been teaching little kids for the past eleven year and knows all the tricks to get their attention and keep them on task. It’s amazing to watch, really. Best of luck to you as you go through college. It’s good you know your passion and have a dream now. Not all of us are that lucky!

  3. Jessica, once again, you just made me stop and recalibrate. You are not only a gifted pen but a gifted pen with a truly sensitive soul. I can only say thank you for continuing to write.

  4. You hit it on the head this time, Jessica. From your description of each child I could almost see them, and it is poignant and heart-warming and frightening. The only thing that wasn’t there from my own experience in a like situation was the smell. I worked two years in what was then called a disadvantaged school and fell in love, and they with me. We moved to another state after I had been there two years and I think of them so often and pray that their lives have been successful, and that they avoided incarceration and drugs. I came back to see them at the end of the second school year (I had been gone six weeks and had promised to see them before the school year was over). I couldn’t get over their joy and the love they poured out on me. It was an humbling experience and I am grateful for it. I hope your experience will turn out as well.

    • Aww, that is such a sweet story, Marie! Kids coming from a disadvantaged background sure have a different perspective than those from privileged homes. My current students are a bit of a mix. But one thing’s for sure — young kids are full of love and don’t hold back! Even the little boys will reach for your hand or give you a hug at this age. It’s so sweet. And, yes, the opportunity for impact is huge. I think teachers (good ones, anyway) are God’s gift — to all of us.

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