Mostly, we grow humans. We teach right from wrong. We teach perseverance. We teach how to get over your first crush breaking up with you. We teach friendships. We teach respect.
My humans are 6th graders trying to navigate the space between still being a child and growing into independent people. It is an interesting period of life for sure. You couldn't pay me money to relive those years of my life again.
Today, one of my students died. I saw kids who come across as jaded and guarded crumble at the loss of a friend. We are a family of 20. With the empty pillow on the floor at his spot we all felt the void. Some wanted to leave school. I reassured them that in times of stress we take to the natural instinct of fight or flight. Leaving would not have made the day any more tolerable and eventually you must return to the empty pillow at the table.
I worried that I wouldn't be able to comfort them all as we dealt with our grief. My arms weren't big enough. My box of tissues was low. I don't remember all of the counselors walking in. I don't know if I could even point them out in a line up. I sat on the couch and held two of my girls. I cried into their hair as their tears soaked my shirt. I looked up to survey my 19 breaking hearts. I saw that there was an adult between every single one of my kids. Holding their hands, pulling them to their shoulder to lean on, and tissues dispensed. I made the way through the room wiping noses and tears with my jacket sleeve and tissues filled with my mascara.
I told them how as teachers we love all of them that deeply. We fall in love every single year with a whole new batch of little humans. Every year we open our lives with hearts ready to grow big enough to fill it with however many kids appear on the rosters.
For the first 10 minutes of the news being delivered we held each other, prayed strongly, and rallied to be the best we could be for our kids. We covered each others' classes to give a teacher time to really break down in private, so that you could get it back together enough to go back in your classroom. We had sonic drinks. Candy. We made it. Together.
When you start teaching they don't tell you that this day might come. They don't tell you how to deal with a child who's parent or sibling in very ill, or the death of a peer. Not that anyone could prepare you for that. Most of our job is coaching people through being people, and death is a very hard human thing. Stay strong my brothers and sisters in education. Tomorrow is a new day to love, grow, and educate. May tomorrow be a heck of a lot better than today.