I technically get paid to teach maths to hard-to-impress middle school students.
But I am always amazed at how even the most (seemingly) well adjusted kids like to skip class and regale me with a tidal wave of commentary about their lives, pausing only to catch the bus at the bell. They talk and talk and talk and talk, rarely even asking for a comment let alone advice. These students see me walking toward my classroom and take the chance to ask me if they can stay. Even though I have a thousand “teacher things” to do, they know that I will rarely say no because they have been led to believe that I care about them.
And on both counts they are right.
Today, one of my best students used the important pretext of getting missing work to spend the next 75 of 90 minutes to fill me in on multiple aspects of his family and his life. I left the classroom twice, allowed him to play games on my computer but nothing could deter him from unloading a soliloquy. I did not say much more than mmhmm and really and wow, but he did not care–and my noncommitted answers did nothing to stop the barrage of stories about grandpa and mom and little sister.
Why listen to this little 11 year old drone on and on, you ask? Because sometimes folks just need someone to listen. I cannot tell you the deeply stressful and sometimes saddening tales he shared with me because he told me in implied confidence. But just like many of his classmates, this kid carries some heavy life experiences, some that have rendered the adults in his life incapable of giving him a voice. And I guess that is where my firever open door comes in.
Even though my primary job description is teaching, my real work is listening and affirming the value in the voices of the people I love who are (in certain instances) kids who do not have the luxury of being heard anywhere else.