Saturday, December 10, 2016

Full and Empty At the Same Time

Can you be EMPTY and FULL at the same time?

There are two kinds of tears as a teacher; those that hurt because you care and those that feel good because you care.  Somedays I feel like my heart is full because I feel like I care so much about these kids…not too much…just so much. The crazy thing is when they walk out my door, I never stop caring. I recently had a colleague tell me that maybe you care too much about kids. Is it possible to care too much? How does one even respond to that?

There were two moments just recently, that capture how the heart can become full and empty all within a few hours and how you can experience the hurt and care kind of tears. As a teacher, even the smallest of messages can make a lasting impact on you.

The FULL Moment

You never forget your first classroom. My first year of teaching was spent in a fifth grade classroom in an inner city almost twenty years ago. I’ve often wondered what’s happened to these kids – kids that attended my wedding, kids that I saw experience holding a crayfish for the first time, kids I saw pick me as their quarterback at recess, a kid who turned a blueberry into a character I’ll never forget, a kid who was taken out of my classroom by child services, kids I saw laugh, cry, and grow, and kids I will never forget.

Because of social media, I’ve been able to reconnect with two students from that class. A few days ago I connected with a third. I hadn’t spoken with this student in almost 20 years when I saw a message come through on Facebook at the end of the school day. Her message brought me to tears:

“I learned so much by all of your projects and different ways you would teach just for us to make school so exciting. I want to thank you so much because, believe it or not, the way you were with us taught me how to teach today. I am a teacher as well, and I love it because of how you were. Thanks so much for changing kids’ lives…because trust me, if you changed mine, you’re changing many others.”

Gotta love those “care” tears.

The EMPTY Moment

It’s funny how life works. One moment you’re feeling amazing and the very next moment your heart is breaking and those “hurt” tears hit you right in the gut.

That evening I was scrolling through Facebook liking pictures –  smiling at how so many of my former students have grown up - I laughed when I read the post about Rosie’s two year old son who refuses to keep his clothes on, smiled at Bree’s (now a teacher in Memphis) post about being a foster mom to puppies, and was wowed by Jay’s son’s collection of over 800 Hot Wheels he collected for a holiday drive.

I scrolled down further and saw the three letters on one ever wants to see… “RIP”.  A former student of mine, who I had just connected with three weeks ago, had died.  Too young, too soon, why, - these thoughts went through my head followed by the memories of him in my sixth grade classroom. I’ll never forget that kid’s smile – it could light up a room.

I commented on the post and got a reply from another former student that shared the same classroom with him and me:

"Mr. Storm, I thought of you right away. My friendship with Ivan started in your classroom. We would spend countless hours on your couch...I credit that entire crew (and you of course) for helping me to come out of my shell and just overall enjoy life more. I'll never forgot all of us made us and I was so embarassed and awkwar but thank God for Ivan's hilarious personality to shield my awkwardness. Such great memories...I just truly cannot fathom that he is gone. Hope you're okay.

Those tears hurt.

I recently had a colleague tell me that maybe you care too much about kids. Is it possible to care too much? How does one even respond to that?