Even though I still don’t feel like I’ve hit my stride yet (c’mon, Chili, give yourself a break; it’s only the first week, fercryinoutloud!), today was a very good day.
I have a group of kids, mostly juniors this year, with whom I’ve not yet had the pleasure of sharing a classroom before (they had a former colleague for freshman year and Mike last year). I’ve been looking forward to having these kids; I’ve had one or two in elective classes, I’ve gotten to know a couple of them over lunch and Socratic Society during the last two years, and I listened in on a bunch of Mike’s classes, so I have a pretty good idea of what they’re like. The long and short of it is that, for the most part, they delight me.
I don’t know how it is, but I’m reasonably sure that every high school teacher will attest to the idea that there are just some bunches of kids who rock our socks, while others are either entirely neutral or downright aggravating. Of course, there’s always that one, stand-out kid (whether for better or worse), but it has been my experience that, usually, the trend seems to ripple through entire graduating classes; as a whole, the kids tend to embody a common energy.
This year’s juniors have a particular kind of awesome about them, and there are a few in particular who stand out to me.
This morning, I gave the juniors a writing prompt that asked them to identify and explain the value of one physical object – one thing that they treasure. When we were all done writing, I went around the table and asked them what they wrote about (eventually, I will ask them to actually read their writing, but for now, it’s enough to give just the big ideas to the class). We got such answers as photo albums, laptops, and jewelery, all answers that I was more or less expecting.
Then I got to Donny.
Understand before I go any further that Donny is a quiet giant of a kid. He is literally never in the middle of the action, but I’ve been watching him for a couple of years now and I see that he doesn’t miss a thing. He is an imposing figure – I am eye level to about the heart center of his chest – but his manner is gentle and serene. I have never heard him raise his voice, but neither have I ever really seen him kicking back with the other kids. To be honest with you, I was half expecting Donny to not have anything to say – I was fully prepared for him to say that he couldn’t think of anything to write about.
Boy, was I wrong.
It seems that Donny’s favorite thing is a poker table.
A poker table.
His reason for this thing being so important to him? He went on to explain that he eats breakfast at this poker table every morning. That he does his homework on the table, that he wins money from his parents on this table; but more than all that, he said, this table is important to him because it is one of the few things that he was able to recover after his family suffered a devastating house fire two years ago. The blaze began in the basement adjacent to Donny’s bedroom and, because there was pvc piping involved in the blaze, everything that wasn’t burned or water-damaged was toxic. Somehow, this table managed to escape both blaze and water and, because it is non-porous, was able to be cleaned of any dangerous residue left by burning pvc.
I was profoundly moved by his explanation, and heartily surprised by the alacrity with which he was willing to share it.
Later, at the end of the day, the AD lead the community in closing circle (it’s a new thing this year; we always begin the day in a community circle, but this is the first year we take 10 minutes at the end to come together). His task for us at the end of this first week of school was to mingle around the room to find people to shake hands with and thank; his goal was for us to express gratitude to one another for contributing to the success of the week.
I headed straight for Donny and was surprised when I found myself welling up. I took his hand and thanked him for being willing to share the story about the table, and for bringing with him an open and generous energy. Then he asked me if I needed a hug, and I was just about done.
It’s going to be a good year.