THE BLOG

Teachable Moments

02/19/2015 05:33 pm ET | Updated Apr 21, 2015
JGI/Jamie Grill via Getty Images

Today, I was out of patience. All day, while teaching, my mind was on my son. I did that horrible thing that we sometimes have to do, and sent him to daycare even though he should have been home sick. In my defense, he did not have a fever this morning, but he's 2 1/2 and has a terrible cough and a runny nose, and was not his enthusiastic self, and maybe on another day, I would have kept him home. But I am a teacher.

Today, I had to teach. Which is not to say that there are days that I do not have to do my job, but there are days when I can stop and create manageable substitute plans. There are days when I have an article that someone can hand out, or questions that my students can work on, or anything available at all that will be not be a complete throw-away day for my students. Today, I had nothing. And my desk (as it usually is) was a complete tornado of papers. I did not want someone to sit there and try to make sense of it. So, I sent my kid to daycare. Even though he was sick. Yup.

All day, I waited for the phone call from them telling me to come and take him home. It didn't come. Which was fine and great. But by eighth period (the last of the day), I was at maximum guilt and minimum patience. So when my Seniors wandered in, when they didn't sit down, when they kept on talking regardless of my voice (not easily dismissed), when they then questioned and groaned at my plan for the day, I wanted to scream. I wanted to get angry and yell that "I am here. I could be home cuddling my son, but I am here, for you. Instead of there for him. So listen. Be grateful." I didn't say those things. What I did was keep to my plan. I reminded them of the article we had finished, I explained the direction in which we would now move, and I told them that we would watch a Ted Talk to bridge the gap between the article and the book we would be starting. When a student had the nerve to groan at this plan, I let my icy glare do its work, and turned on the projector. Within moments they were rapt.

We watched a young British man talk about skiing across the North Pole, and listened as he asked us whether we were content using so little of our potential? I didn't have an answer. I wondered if my students did. We discussed what they saw, and what they heard, and then I gave them some time to talk amongst themselves. Funny how they never gripe about this. I listened to a group of them discuss a former student who had just been arrested for felony assault. They were sad for him. They were upset that he was going to jail. The boys agreed that to defend a family member, they would do the same thing. I chose that moment to lose it. "Listen to yourselves. Of course this is sad. But let's for a moment be sad about the right things. Let's be sad about the situation that led a boy to this moment. Let's be sad for his victim, and maybe take a moment to think about having control over our instincts toward violence." I wanted to scream.

We have these moments with these kids. We have 48 moments every day to help them to become...and then they leave. For some of them we have meant something. Some of them will take one of those moments and live it and work it and make of it a life. But others. Others will leave and forget and let their lives be lived for them. And some of them will be behind bars, and others will create their own cells, and every day that is what makes me sad.

Maybe it was good to be here today. Maybe my son was okay with his wonderful teachers who are molding him and shaping his life. Because when the bell rang, and I thought I had done nothing, I got another chance. One of my students, the one who had loudly complained about having to watch a Ted Talk, stayed behind. I looked at her and knew she was not okay. I asked her to sit and her friend to shut the door and she told me her father (her heart, her rock, her only stable parent) just had open heart surgery last night and she had spent the night consoling her younger brother. The tears came and I hugged her, completely there, not looking at my phone, not thinking about why I am hugging, or the effect of this hug, just being a stable adult in a world of instability.

This is why I came in today.