I had a fourth grader walk into my classroom today, and she wasn't acting herself. She came in and sat down at her desk, which was highly unusual. I was sitting and putting some things away, so I stopped what I was doing and said, "J, are you okay? You don't seem like yourself." And then I asked, "Would you come help me put these things away?"
That's what got her. She didn't want to talk, but she is always willing to help. She came over, and instead of doing exactly what I asked, she plopped her little body right next to mine on the floor and said, tears streaming down her face, "We had to call the ambulance last night." She proceeded to tell me the story of what had happened with her grandmother and I knew that our day was going to be a different day from what was planned. That was okay, because today she didn't need my reading and writing lessons. Today she needed someone that she loved to reassure her, and she needed someone that loved her to hug her and let her cry if she needed to.
When it came to writing, and she just couldn't think of a single thing to write about for the end of year writing prompt, and she said her tummy hurt, I told her to go get a drink of water and come back to me. I knew this wasn't the stomach bug that was going around, this was J worrying about the people that she loves at home and at the hospital. She came right back, and I told her that instead of writing the prompt that I wanted her to write about what had happened. She wrote a beautiful narrative about what had happened. I asked her to write her feelings, and she wrote, "I feel sad, gloomy, and my stomach hurts because I just can't stop thinking about it." My heart broke.
As parents, we know that sometimes we send our kids to school when it's all falling apart at home, and we just hope that there is someone at school to catch our kids. My job as a teacher isn't just to teach the required knowledge and skills. My job is to know these kids and stop to listen. My job is to take care of their needs. My job is to love them.