I get it. "I wish my teacher knew..." A third grade teacher in Denver, Kyle Schwartz, wanted to find out more about her students. She found out. Mostly her discoveries were of a socio-economic nature: "I wish my teacher knew I don't have pencils at home to do my homework." Not to diminish the revelation, but since Ms. Schwartz works in a school where ninety-two percent of the kids receive free or reduced lunch, it follows somewhat logically that pencils might be at a premium in that neighborhood. Far from ridiculing the sentiment generated by these disclosures, I felt the tug that the rest of the planet experienced on their collective heartstrings. Mostly because after eighteen years on the job, I still forget sometimes.
Last week, I arrived at school each day before seven because it was our first week of standardized testing, and it was my charge to roll out the carts filled with online machines with which our students would demonstrate their massive skills and capacities acquired over most of the past year. It was, for the most part, a solitary exercise that gave me a chance to reflect on my job. Especially when, on Friday morning, I was rolling one of those refrigerators on wheels across the yard to one of our portable classrooms and I noticed two figures standing near the gate. A fifth grade boy and his fourth grade sister raised a hand in my direction. "Hey Mister Caven," hollered the big brother, waving his Burger King cup in my direction.
"Mom dropped you off pretty early, didn't she?"
This time it was the sister who called back, "Yeah." She held her own cup of something, but seemed much less enthusiastic than her brother. It was not yet seven in the morning, and these kids would be waiting an hour and a half for school to start. This was not the first time this had happened. I had spent a good part of the last year, off and on, negotiating with their mother to make sure there would always be someone to watch her children. Before school. After school. She had to work. She had to drop off her kids before dawn. Had to. At least she felt that she had to. I suggested alternatives that included stopping off at a friend's house, and letting the kids walk to school with them when it was closer to the scheduled beginning of the day. The one announced by a bell. Or maybe they could walk to school after waiting for a little while longer, maybe even having breakfast at home. The one that was only a few blocks from the school. In order to get that Burger King, they had to go a mile in the opposite direction first, leaving at least a few minutes earlier than if they would have simply waited to eat the breakfast we provide every morning. Free of charge.
And so there we stood, across the playground from one another, with the understanding that they were now on school grounds and therefore safe. I knew that mom had to do what she had to do. It was a choice she was making. A reality she was creating. This was something I wish this teacher didn't know.