I spend an awful lot of time worrying—like all parents, relatives, teachers, counselors, and anyone else who invests in kids, I’d imagine—about how to make sure that mine are good citizens. When I really think about the myriad of choices that Lily’s going to have to make over the next few decades, it makes my head spin—and it also makes me wonder: how do you teach a child to be a kind, compassionate, and brave upstander in a world that seems to tolerate bullies, abusers, and not-so-brave bystanders? And how do you prepare to answer the really tough questions about contradictions like these when you don’t have all—or any—of the answers?
When I was working as a teacher, I always felt like there was tremendous pressure to make sure that the kids in my class left better/smarter/kinder/more aware than they were when they arrived on the first day—and I’m still haunted by all of the mistakes that I made, the opportunities that I missed, and the knowledge that I was not always the powerful force for change that I wanted to be, especially when I think about how much better/smarter/kinder/ more aware the time I spend with those students made me. Still, when I’m feeling particularly guilty, I remember the brilliant words of one of my English department colleagues: We don’t have to be that teacher for every kid. We do, however, have to make sure every kid has that teacher.
But this weekend, while paging through the Sunday paper, I came across this truly amazing article: http://www.parade.com/news/our-towns/2011/0306-the-whole-world-in-his-arms.html. After I dried my eyes (and called my mom), it hit me: there are teachers—and even those teachers—everywhere. And sometimes—more often than we realize, I suppose– those teachers are other kids.
I guess that’s what I’m trying to hold onto these days. I don’t have to know everything, or teach everything, or model everything perfectly for Lily. I do, however, have to help her learn to seek out people who inspire her to be better, and I have to show her that our greatest lessons often come from unexpected places: a conflict, a classmate, a random act of kindness… and maybe even from those that we’re supposed to teach.