Good or bad, I am a teacher. While the world has set opinions about what I do for a living and who I impact and on what level, I know the value and the worth of what I do. While many days don’t work out the way that I plan for them to, I am able to go to bed at night knowing that someone was impacted, or at least comforted or included, by the fact that I was in my rightful place in the tiny world I command.
Many days I feel blessed by the presence of those around me. My students are AMAZING human beings. It is my privilege to lead them, or to be led by them. They have their issues—what teen doesn’t– but through it all, they come back swinging. They are resilient. They are compassionate. They are strong.
While there may be many posts about the stress, struggle, and grind of my daily job, this is not one of them. This is a note of praise. As I sit, watching my first block class test, I am amazed and grateful for the small community I work in, for the way many of our parents have raised their kids, and for the blessing of a truly awesome senior class.
I am AWED by them.
Today is Monday. By all accounts, most Mondays are filled with grumbles (often from me), yawns (from all of us), and requests that we not do anything difficult (from them). Through the course of the semester I hear their pleas often, and I ignore them in hopes that we will find our groove as we wade through the words of Chaucer and Shakespeare, trudge through more lessons on how to write with intelligence and purpose, and strive to understand the correlation between peoples and their written word throughout history. This Monday is no different for many of them… but for me, I am moved to write so that the world knows of the kind hearts and considerate spirits that surround me.
On this Monday, I admit that teenagers are often self-indulgent. Often they are sarcastic and crass. But they have also been given a bad rap. My seniors show me what I wish my graduating class had been. They show me how much has changed in the decade and a half since I sat in their place. They show me how the world has become so much more understanding and inclusive. This Monday, they show me that we are all the same…
And this revelation all started at prom.
While most girls are concerned about their hair, their nails, and (OH MY GOODNESS!) their dress, and the boys want to look suave in their rented garb while driving their freshly washed cars and jacked-up trucks (I do live in rural Virginia after all), this year there were some other thoughts along the way. There was a lot of deliberation among some about who their dates should be, some stress between patents and teens about possibly non-traditional choices, and some gossip about who was going with who, despite the fact that they had recently been spotted with someone else. But there were also three couples who quietly came to the dance in a way that was both normal and extraordinary at the same time. There was little said about them, but their presence may have changed the way I look at them forever.
We all know what the prom court typically looks like. Filled with the most beautiful or most popular, they are the ones who are expected to win. Often they inspire admiration, or jealousy, and often there is a quiet battle waged in hushed tones, or blasted across social media, about who should be crowned on prom night and who should not. A few years ago, our school changed it up a bit and decided that the teachers would submit the nominations; the student body would narrow the list and vote in the reigning couples. It took a few years for the kids to fully jump aboard this new trend, but this year they fully embraced it. They took pride in it, and they used it to make sure that some amazing young ladies, who are often set apart from the student body because of their educational needs, had the times of their lives.
How I wish I could show them to you, because they were exceptional in their beauty and their joy. While they may often go unnoticed, on Saturday they took center stage. Ironically, they all wore red- a color that I have never had the self-confidence to wear. It is the experiences that they were given that makes me love our kids for their spirit and their hearts.
Young lady number one, because I am at a loss for a creative way to distinguish these amazing young women without blowing their cover, has taken self-contained SPED classes throughout her days in our school system and is also plagued by significant health problems. She was nominated and named as one of the candidates for prom queen. While in some situations this would seem like a recipe for disaster, our students were behind her and worried that she would not be able to attend. They voted for her, they hoped for her, and they cheered for her as she took the stage. Her brother, always at her side to protect her while making sure she had the prom experience that every girl desires (complete with date-in-tux and not adult-aid-in-tow), gave her distance as she stood before the crowd. While she did not win, she was radiant.
Young lady number two, who smiles constantly but has difficulty communicating, has also spent most of her educational career apart from the masses, but she is friends with all. Her grin is infectious! Looking every bit the princess, she was called to stand at the front with all the nominees. As her name was announced as Junior class Princess, there were squeals and cheers of delight. As the prince escorted her to the dance floor, the cheers continued. The prince danced with her as she beamed. The king shared a fist-bump, and halfway through the dance, the queen grouped them all together for a four person group mingle to the fast paced music that was played but the d.j. Our princess smiled continuously and had the time of her life.
Perhaps it is young lady number four that makes me the most proud. It was not until this sleepy Monday morning that I saw pictures of her in her glory and realized that one of the nominees for king had asked her, his life-long friend, to accompany him as his plus-one. They dined together with friends, danced together, and had formal pictures taken together and with their friends. While he did not win a crown on Saturday, he won my gratitude and respect. He could have chosen a more popular date, but he made a young lady who often goes unnoticed and takes many of her classes in small groups feel like a princess among the masses.
These are our kids.
They have been raised well. They are considerate, compassionate, and kind. They see beyond disabilities and look for opportunities to make others feel included.
While some days may be a struggle, not a day goes by that I am not proud of where I teach and who I teach. They understand that small things are sometimes the most important. And they know that everyone deserves to have their fairy tale, at least for a little while.
They are my heros.