It was an innocent moment in the middle of an ordinary day. One of my students accidentally used the wrong word and called me Mr. It’s happened a few times over the years; little kids, especially those just learning English, sometimes confuse words relating to gender and misspeak. My normal response is to laugh and say that that’s my father, not me. But this is not a normal year.
Without warning I found myself crying. In front of my class. My class who was staring at me, not quite sure what was going on.
And on an ordinary Friday afternoon, we briefly discussed life and death.
I told them why I was so sad it made me cry. I reminded them of the days I was out of school and explained to them that I had been gone because my dad died. Kids nodded their heads as they remembered those days with different substitutes early in the year. Because they’re young, they didn’t quite get the concept of time and asked if I was a kid when it happened. I pulled out my phone and showed them a picture of the two of us, taken a month before he died. (We used that picture on his funeral program.) Some of them were surprised to see me looking the way I do now.
This opened up the conversation to them. One girl shared that her grandmother died. A boy who was visiting our class told us how his dad died too (and his mom is in jai, and he gets to see her this weekend). One of my boys, my perceptive one who sits back quietly and takes it all in, observed that I am still so sad because I loved him very much.
This conversation didn’t take long, in the greater scheme of things; maybe ten minutes. But in an era where too much is expected of teachers and students, too much is supposed to be crammed into young brains–often before they are ready–this was a disruption. We used to call them teachable moments. Nowadays many schools forbid them, overtly or not.
So yesterday we didn’t get everything done we “should” have. But there were lessons in listening and sympathy and empathy and thinking about someone other than yourself. There were lessons in grieving and loving and caring. There was the lesson that sometimes grown-ups cry, and that’s okay.
And that’s more valuable than any lesson plan.