Small Goodnesses

Last week, I was hurrying through my 6th period class, counting the minutes until the bell would ring after 7th period.  It had been a long day of teaching argumentative writing to 14 and 15-year-olds who argued expertly with me all day that they didn’t really NEED to know how to write essays.  I was ready for my pajamas and maybe a Girl Scout cookie… or 12.

I had been walking around my 6th period class for the past forty-five minutes, attempting to control a classroom of low-performing, high-energy students and, if the sun, moon, and stars aligned just right, maybe even teach them something.  In the middle of my complex dance of educator/disciplinarian, I prayed a quick, rushed prayer.  

“Where you go, I will go.  Where you stay, I will stay.”

This also happens to be my verse for the year. Do you have a verse you carry with you wherever you go? If not, I highly recommend it for days just like this, when you don’t have time to form a prayer, but you know one is needed to get you through.  Just throw that life verse up to the heavens and see what happens.  

As the class period dwindled down and the blessed last three minutes of class rolled around, I called out to my rowdy 6th period goons, “OKAY! I’ve had enough! {did I say that out loud?} I mean… you’ve done enough! Pack up for the day!”

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What fake impression there had been of any kind of controlled chaos snapped away and the class erupted into laughter, backpacks zipping and unzipping, and talking… Always the talking.

But in the rush of the end of the class period, a student sat silently in his seat.  He’s a quiet student.  Never asking for much, but needing, oh, so much. He has multiple learning disabilities and is picked on quite a bit.  A better teacher would have built a relationship with a kid like that by this point in the year, but in a class of 26 with 13 of them having emotional, behavioral, learning, or physical disabilities, it’s just hard to notice the quiet ones.  That is, until the chaos around them creates a kind of spotlight that helps them to finally be seen.

The bell rang and my students filed out, as I yelled after them, “DO YOUR HOMEWORK! OR AT LEAST READ SOMETHING!” And only then did my quiet student begin to pack up his bag and stand to go.  

“Hi, pumpkin,” I said to him casually as he packed his bag.  “I see you struggling with this assignment a little bit. Can I help you?” (Middle Schooler Tip #581: Always ask if you can help before starting to help.  Otherwise, they shut you down.)

“It’s not actually the assignment for once,” he said, kind of smiling.  

“Oh, yeah?” I replied as I straightened chairs and picked up trash from off my floor.  (Middle Schooler Tip #582: Never appear too interested.  They can smell eagerness.) “Anything I can help you with?”

He stood there for a minute, scratching one foot against the back of his leg, thinking over what to say to me.  “Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate.”

“Because of the noise? This class is so darn loud. I’m sorry sweet pea.  Maybe tomorrow we can work silently to give everyone a chance to catch up.”

“No,” he said, stopping me.  “It isn’t the class.  It’s just… It’s this…” And he lifted his sweatshirt sleeve, revealing an arm covered in raw, red, blistered skin from his wrist to as far up as I could see.  I had to stop myself from gasping.  “And this other one, too.”  

Both his arms were covered in the worst eczema I had ever seen.  He went on to explain that he had it on both arms, his stomach, and both calves.  He said that Cortisone helped a little bit that it was expensive, and he had run out two weeks ago.  He was waiting for his mom to get paid so they could get him some more.

I told him I understood how that would make it hard to concentrate and told him if he would like to stand up and work in the back of the room instead of sitting, he was welcome to try that tomorrow.  He seemed so relieved to have some kind of relief offered, and a huge smile filled his face.  He grabbed his backpack and headed out of my classroom, as my next and final class period of the day filed in.

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I stood at my classroom door and greeted my seventh period students with smiles and jokes, like always, but in my head, I was praying again.  Only this time, I slowed down to offer up my own words, instead of my Bible verse.

“Lord, thank you for speaking to me in the still, small voices of the quiet kids.  Thank you for teaching me to stay where you stay – even if that is just two extra minutes after class with a student who needs some extra time and care.  And thank you that you are in all of us, especially the least of these.  Amen.”  

It’s been almost a week since that encounter and it is still on my mind.  But not just that particular student.  The idea that sometimes God wants me to focus my time and attention in the still, small, quiet places, not just the loud, boisterous, attention-seeking places.  Speaking a word of kindness to someone.  Giving encouragement to someone who needs it.  Listening to the people around me.  Sitting beside someone who needs a friend.  
Small goodnesses are everywhere.  Just like God.

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9 thoughts on “Small Goodnesses

  1. Hannag

    This made me cry. What a sweet little boy. Would there be any way I could send you some money to get this sweet guy some cortisone cream? Or send the actual cream? I am so touched by this interaction. Thank you for taking the time to reach out to the quiet ones. I’m sure this made a greater impact on him than you could ever know!

  2. Alicia

    Um. Breaks my heart… can I PayPal you $20 to go buy that kid some cortisone?!

    My good friend suffered from severe eczema and can only imagine how hard it is for this poor kid.

    Seriously, email me.

  3. Meghan

    I would like to contribute money, too. Please tell us how to do this.

    Meghan

  4. Lee Ann

    Katie,
    You are exactly where you need to be. Thank goodness for you. Whatever planets aligned to create that teacher opening many years ago, and put you in the place to need it, and sent your friend to tell you about it … but it wasn’t planets aligning. It was God.

  5. Josie

    Katie, I’m wondering too if you’re able to give your students anything like the cortisone this student needs, I would happily PayPal you some money to help out.

  6. HeatherM

    This kid doesn’t just need cortisone. He needs to see a doctor, and he probably needs to be referred to a dermatologist too. He also probably needs systemic steroids at this point, like prednisone. Please reach out to your school nurse about this student, so she can follow up with the family and confirm he is plugged in with all of the medical care he needs.

  7. Tabs

    Wow…I love how God works like this. In the small things of life, and not just the big huge things. Thank you, God, for Katie and for her love for the students she teaches and for you (which helps her love the students she teaches, haha!). Help her to continue to lean into you in the crazy moments of life and to pay attention to where You are taking her.

  8. Amy

    I worked as an Emotional Support Para until recently and I applaud your attention to the details with that young boy. Those students can get lost in the midst of a hectic day. The students I worked with, while challenging on a stellar level, were missing basic needs not being met at home. Some due to financial restraints and others to lack of interest. It’s terribly saddening to watch some of these children try to traverse the regular challenges of middle school, yet be saddled with something like an untreated skin condition. Breaks my heart really. This makes me miss my students a bit. I left my position for a few reasons, but one was because I was burnt out. Now I find myself wondering how they’re progressing.
    To those interested in offering money to pay for a treatment cream, I’m guessing she can’t accept it or offer it to her student. I could not have provided any care in that way, but could have notified the nurse to inform parents. I had a student once ask me to come to her house to do her hair before a middle school dance. I couldn’t, but did it tug on my emotions.

    1. Katie

      Thank you. Yes, I’m not able to offer medication or physical assistance to him. And that’s really for my safety and his. Thank you to everyone for your kind hearts and willingness to help. My blog readers are the best. <3

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