It is heartbreaking, this work of loving other people. But in the end, it is work worth breaking a heart over.
One of my kiddos is transferring schools on Monday. It was all very last-minute and purely financial, and this intelligent, disciplined boy will find chances to try things our small school can't offer. I asked him on Monday how he felt about the move. "Well, it will be sad to leave here."
"Yeah. It will. And it's okay to be sad about it. You've been here a long time."
"Your new school, though, it'll be a great opportunity for you."
"Yeah. A great opportunity." The words flopped out of his mouth and slid halfheartedly toward the floor, and I reminded myself that this was a great opportunity to stop talking. How many times has he heard that phrase: a great opportunity? How often have we posed it as the perfect solution, as though its greatness trumps the pain and the uncertainty, the awkwardness, the letting go?
Some of my students believe, at twelve, things that will follow them into adulthood: I'm not a good student. I'm not a reader. I'm too shy. I'm too spastic. So much insecurity rests next to the lie that whatever you are at this moment is, will be, has to be what you solidify into for the rest of your life--and I don't just mean for middle schoolers. The ones who believe that they lack something will likely spend much of their lives trying to gain it. But there's another shade of insecurity that will crop up for kids like the boy who is leaving today: they will constantly see opportunities fold open before them. Their struggle will not be with a lack of options but with knowing what option to take, or even when to choose none at all. Great opportunities are great, but not only great.
I watch them, even now, beginning tender steps forward and back between what they are and what they will be, and I can't navigate this for them. Sometimes I can't even navigate it for myself.
We drank Coke floats during 5th hour and said goodbye, and he handed back the books he's borrowed from me this semester. He's become a reader this year, devouring stories like a rabid bat eats flesh (that's sick, I know; I'm in Lord of the Flies mode from 4th hour still). When the kids had gone downstairs for gym class, his mom thanked me for keeping her son stocked with books. Her husband told her to thank the English teacher for making him love to read.
I can't make anyone love something, no more than I can make someone's choices for them. Still, I love books and I've tried to love my students, and I didn't expect myself to spend 7th hour in tears because one of my crazy boys is leaving.
Teaching, like loving, can be so, so hard. But it is a great opportunity.