Me being at a loss for words is a rarity, but right now my heart is aching so bad that I cant seem to find the right words. When I signed up for this class, I was positive I would be able to teach the kids life lessons and maybe even change the hearts of many. Never did it occur to me that this class would teach me something or that I would get so much from it, especially so soon. Teachers have this unwritten rule/inside joke that we don't smile until after Christmas so that we can establish classroom management and respect from the students. I wonder what my teacher friends will think when I tell them I didn't just smile on week two, but I cried...in front of my students. Yesterday we started class with a short moving video about how words hurt. Then, I handed each student a perfectly identical piece of paper. I told them they could spread out where there was no chance anyone could see what was written on their paper. I also said they didn't have to write their name, but even if they did it would just be for ME to know who they were and that I would never disclose who said what. I asked them to write on the paper something in their lives they are struggling with or that is hurtful to them then crumble it up and raise it in the air. I would walk by with a glass jar and let them drop it in while I constantly mixed them up. This could be something that happened a long time ago, but that if it was still hurting their hearts they could write about it. This was not limited to bullying. The reason I decided to do this activity is because I could tell that when I told them scenarios of why they should treat their friends/peers a certain way and understand that everyone has a story they thought I was talking about third world countries or something. Many just couldn't comprehend that these things (abuse, hunger, etc) were happening to the same kids that walk down their hallways everyday. I played "perfect" a cover done by AHMIR for anti-bullying while they wrote. If it weren't for the music you could have heard a pin drop. It was incredible. But what was more incredible was how when I looked around I could see deep pain inside the eyes of some of my students. Slowly I would see a tear drop onto their paper. Before the song was over and people started looking around, eyes dried up because we are too big to cry right? I collected the last of the papers and walked across the room to sit alone so that there was no chance someone would even see the handwriting or ink color of the writing. I first read them to myself in case someone said something that made it obvious who said it. .................This is when it happened...............This is when I realized I was about to break the unwritten teacher rule.............This is when I felt like I was swallowing burning rocks..............This is when I realized this lesson was just as much for me as it was for them............My heart was breaking in front of 10,11, and 12 year olds. I slowly opened the papers to read things that I was not prepared to read. I knew there were kids who went home to an empty refrigerator, alcoholic family members, drug abusing family members, and more. But these stories went so much deeper than that. I opened a paper that talked about things I cant even utter....my heart felt like it was being pulled from my chest. I couldn't even try to fight the tears at this point. I remember opening one piece of paper in particular and all I could say is, "I want to get up and wrap my arms around you and hug you so tightly, but I don't even know who you are. I want to hold you and tell you how sorry I am that you had to ever feel what no child should ever feel, but I don't even know who you are. I don't even know who you are, yet I see you everyday and talk to you everyday". I held up the jar of wadded up pieces of paper and looked up to see the pain falling from the eyes of my sweet babies. It was completely quiet as eyes wandered around the room trying to figure out which one of their friends matched the wadded up piece of paper that talked about being physically abused by a certain member of their family, or what student matched the paper that talked about watching someone they loved being murdered. I asked "does this change the way you feel about the people you go to school with now?" Together everyone agreed it very much changed a lot of things. I reminded them that my jar was glass and that this wasn't a magic trick where I changed out the papers. These were real life struggles that our friends held in their hearts and hid behind a smile everyday. They were still puzzled as to how they never knew something so big that was happening in someones life. I asked them "what does someone who is sexually abused look like? or What does a child who was locked in a closet for days at a time look like? or What does someone who watched their sibling be resuscitated back to life after thinking they were dead look like? Are they supposed to wear a sign around their neck or a certain color shirt to show their heart is broken on the inside?" I explained that everyone would have to wear that certain color shirt of have some sort of sign around their neck because EVERYONE has a story, although some are more heart breaking than others. I had said many times over the last couple weeks "everyone has a story so be kinder than necessary to your friends" but for the first time THEY GOT IT!!! There aren't many gifts in the world that would top this day for me. I was able to watch pain fall from the eyes of these kids and not have to feel ashamed for showing their hurt. I was able to watch their hearts humble to the words that came off of those papers. There was something in my chest that burned for the rest of the day. I couldn't stop thinking about what I now knew about so many of my students. I wanted to hug them individually and tell them how much I cared about them and how sorry I was for the hurt their hearts burdened, but for many of them, I didn't even know who they were. I left school carrying a pain I had never carried from this building before. It's funny how God worked in my heart throughout this day and then it is even more funny what happened next. I was finishing up my dreaded weekly shopping trip at HEB and on top of my aching heart I couldn't find the taquitos despite my back and forth search of the store. I was about to give up when I heard the sweetest, loudest "MS. BEXLEYYYYYYYY" come from behind me. I turned around in time for her arms to wrap around me. One of my sweet babies from class had her arms wrapped around me as she was looking around for her mother. She told her mother "this is the best teacher in the world!!" That parent introduced herself to me and asked me "What is the best teacher in the world's name?". I introduced myself and she said "Oh yeah, I hear about your everyday!" She may have no idea what she did for my day by coming up to me in a public place and not being a normal "too cool for school" middle schooler who just gives you the quick smile and nod while passing by. For the first time in many hours my heart felt warm and full again. How did this tiny little girl have the power to completely change my day? Because of her random act of kindness!!! And she didn't even know she was doing it. What a beautiful gift she gave me!! Warmly, Amanda 6th grade Youth Leadership
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