Resistant. Broken. Disrespectful. Angry. Mean. Isolated. Hidden. Forgotten. Abused. These are words to describe many of our kids today. Not just the kids from a particular side of town, either. As logic tells us, hurt knows no boundaries, so no matter what school you peek inside, you’ll find kids walking the hallways in a hazy daze.
That’s hard for us to talk about because most of us grew up with Mayberry and the Cleavers, where at the root of our sustainability and serenity was the family. I am, of course, biased, and I willingly admit that, but I don’t see a foothold more barraged by the flying debris of the crumbling American family than the public school teacher.
And with that frontline position, comes massive responsibility.
There is no more crucial step in the re-ordering of our children’s balance than the surrogates our teachers become to their students. We learned it from a mom and dad; many of today’s generation is learning it from their teachers.
Teachers understand this enormous endeavor, and yet, they willfully volunteer to girder-up the dilapidated cornerstone of our children’s lives. It’s a noble cause, and to say we appreciate it seems a vast understatement. If those who have never stood before a class of 30 different cases of neglect, situations of misguidance, or conditions of isolation could consider the enormity of the job at hand, there would never be a hint of hesitation in uplifting our teachers.
Because all across our great city, there are amazing teachers standing in the gaps for our kids, portraying Mayberry as best they can and modeling June and Ward to the best of their ability.
Classroom teachers like Teresa Mims at South Columbus.
Her battle plan was drawn in 2014, when she first started teaching. Right out of college, she was energetic to save the world with her perfectly planned lessons but her students entered her classroom with bastions built. Her utopia was challenged. She could cower and retreat, or stand and fight the foe strangling her students’ serenity. She chose to fight.
Teresa’s number one goal each year, every year, is to start with family first. Nonnegotiably, Mrs. Mims attempts to crumble any walls her second graders come into her classroom with and invites them into the family. She does this by offering two simple things: skills they need to survive and love they may not get at home.
It’s not easy. And it doesn’t happen overnight. Thirty-six weeks together is a short time to clean the rubble of eight years chiseling away. But she is steadfast, relentless and pursuant. She greets them with loves, hugs and affirmations. She ends the day with loves, hugs and affirmations. And during the in-between times, she finds ways to bring them into the fold.
She starts the year with direct instruction about why and how they can all be part of the same family. She erases their differences and finds their commonalities and encourages play and interaction between the different colors of skin and cultures of neighborhoods. She transforms lunch time into family dinner time, inspiring congenial discussions around a good, hot meal.
Mrs. Mims rotates, sitting right in between her students so she can informally fellowship among them. Behind school pizzas and fried chicken, she learns about their authentic selves, their likes and dislikes, their dreams and fears. She becomes June to them.
Eventually, slowly, they come around. Not because of anything magical Teresa Mims does. Not because she has some special power or some extra ability not all of us have. They come around because she treats them like family.
That’s as simple as it is. Treat each other like family because, well, we are.
Sheryl Green is a secondary educator in Columbus, Georgia. To correspond with Sheryl, email her at email@example.com.