I have a little girl in my class this year (normally I have only boys, who are statistically more likely to have emotional/behavioral disabilities.) I could call her “Tootsie” (Ring a bell?), but I will call her Kelly. Anyway, this little 11-year-old charmer (Yes, charmer; now that we have the farting under control) has stolen my heart.
Picture Pigpen (of Peanuts fame), and you will see Kelly, but instead of dirt in a 3-foot radius, you will see books, folders, notebooks, pencil cases, an empty water bottle, and loose paper in a tiny encampment around her. It is not unusual to observe Kelly walk out of the room (arms loaded up) only to drop the entire collection in the hallway, two steps out the door. Imagine her picking everything up (alone, or with the help of some kind soul), only to drop everything again three steps later. That’s Kelly. (And all this after spending ten minutes organizing the whole mess with me.)
Like many 6th graders, Kelly is tiny; only about 4 1/2 feet tall. She has chestnut-brown hair that someone in a hurry must have cut for her, chin-length. She also has warm brown eyes and an ever-present grin. She uses words like “certainly” and “of course,” but pronounced “sotenly,” “of cose,” (apparently having been at the back of the speech lessons line in grade school.) Her shirts and her pants are too short and not appropriate for the season (It’s cold. Kelly’s wearing summer stuff). If you look over the playground during recess, you will see only one child wearing a snowsuit (in middle school). That child is Kelly. She is adorable, if not fashion conscious.
This week, I brought in some of Kendall's clothes that she's outgrown; several t-shirts, some gym shorts, a swimming suit, and some pajama pants with a shirt that says, “I heart chocolate.” (I had asked Kelly’s single dad if he minded. He said he would appreciate it very much.) When I showed Kelly the clothes, she was thrilled. “Of cose, it’s always nice to get new clothes!” she exclaimed. “Oh my gosh! This is adowable!” “Pajamas! I don’t have any pajamas!”
At that moment, I had a flashback to a little girl on a 1970’s winter night, standing awe-struck in the living room as Salvation Army volunteers came through the front door, bringing box after box of gently-used items for her family. I remember that she, too, was ecstatic and profusely appreciative, even though none of the items were brand-new. This little girl, too, wore clothes that had seen better days. She had haircuts that didn’t cost a dime (and showed it). And she, too, had a cheerful spirit that belied her troubled home life and a certain sparkle that made a couple of sensitive teachers take notice and reach out to her. She, too, was worth that attention; attention that would change her life forever.
It dawned on me the day I brought those clothes in that I have a chance to make an impact Kelly’s life; not just as a teacher, but as a human being. A simple act of bringing her used clothing made her day. My heart warms at the thought that I will likely have her for two more years after this one. I have the opportunity to keep the chain of teacher kindness and compassion going. I can make a difference in Kelly’s world.
I love my job.