Every summer, as the new school years creeps closer, I start to think about all that my students have experienced over the summer. I am always aware that not everything that may have taken place since my students last left the halls of our school, will have been positive. Every summer, children struggle. Every summer, children must navigate through a different schedule with different routines. And while summer is so joyous, I am always aware that for some students, it is not pure joy.
But this year. As summer starts to slip away and my excitement for a new school year starts to take its place, I am more aware than ever of what my students, what all of our students, may have experienced over these past few months.
As classrooms across the country begin to fill back in with children and teachers and learning and growing, I think about what our students have seen over these past few months. What they have been witness to this particular summer. How it will have hurt them. How it will have scared them. How it will have scarred them. Because, this summer, our students have seen some of the worst that this world has to offer and for some of them it has hit way too close to home. Some of them have seen some of the things that have happened to some of the people who are, in many ways, just like them. Just like our students.
Some of our students will have seen a massive amount of people shot and killed inside of a nightclub for loving the way that our students love.
Some of our students will have seen men and women shot and killed by police officers for living inside of skin that looks like our students’ skin.
Some of our students will have heard politicians stand up and say that others are not welcome here in this country because they pray the way that our students pray.
Some of our students will have read that people in this country want to build a wall to keep people out who have come from places that are exactly the same as the places our students have come from.
As they walk back into our schools and into our hallways and into our classrooms and into our lives, some of our students are bringing back with them far more than anxious start-of-the-school-year jitters. Some of our students are bringing back with them a deep sense of feeling unsafe and unloved by our country and the people in it.
So we have a big job to do, teachers.
We must let them know love.
It is more important this year than ever before. We must greet them not only with open arms and a big smile, but with an open heart and an open mind to who they are and all that they are bringing in with them. We must let our biggest job this year be to let them know love.
Perhaps it must be more important than making sure that they do every single assignment in the exact way we want them to do it. Perhaps it must be more important than making sure that they memorize the dates and facts that we want them to memorize. Perhaps it must be more important than making sure that they stop talking the second that we tell them to.
Perhaps our biggest job this fall and this year is to let them know love. To let them know that they are loved. To let them know that they have this love no matter what. No matter who they are or what they do. Let them know that in our classrooms, in our schools, they will be loved. Because when they know love, that is when they are best able to learn. When they feel worthy, that is when they are best able to push themselves. When they feel safe, that is when they are most willing to take the necessary academic risks that will move them forward.
So when they start to walk in this year, make time to listen to them. Make sure that in between labeling school supplies and doing icebreakers and going over rules and expectations, make sure that there is time to listen to what our students have to tell us. Listen to their stories. Listen to what they have been witness to. Listen to them as if their lives depend on it. Because they might.
Because if we are to truly let them know love, then we must start by listening to them. By knowing them. And then showing them our love. And then we can start to love them in a way that will not erase the hate that they might have heard and that they might have known, but that will, at least, ensure them that there is love here in this world too.
And as we let them know our love, we must also let ourselves know their love. We must allow ourselves to be loved by them. We must give ourselves time to slow down and feel their love. Because it has been hard to be away from students this summer. This summer, with all of its hate and with all of its potential hopelessness. This is a summer we needed our students. We needed them to remind us, just as we hope to remind them, that there is goodness in this world. There there is love here in this world too. And we are so lucky to be going back into classrooms that we can fill with love. It is a special job and we are so lucky to be doing it.