Monday, June 5, 2017

Unexpected Joy

I wrote this last October and just found it under my drafts, waiting anxiously to be published. So 8 months later, summer's here and so is this blog.

Little brown faces with candy corns painted on cheeks. Sticky hands carrying monster-sized, sugar topped cupcakes with Boo! scribed in loopy chocolate writing. Sneakers thrown askance next to a line leading up the bouncy house slide. Hip hop music pumping in the background. Such was the setting for the annual Fall Festival held at Cavile Community Center, smack in the heart of Stop Six.

Tonight, there was no place I would have rather been. Since last week, I'd been looking forward tthis day, for no other particular reason than I hoped to see a few familiar faces since I taught in the neighborhood just two years ago and had volunteered at the festival with my church small group last year.

Well, I take that back. It had been a really crappy day. I was late to school, my amazing lesson plans were thrown out the window with the uncooperative technology, and one of my students had a meltdown because I wouldn't let him watch YouTube  (as if that were ever an option in my classroom), all before noon. I usually regroup during my teeny-tiny lunch break, but due to new district initiatives, I spent my quiet time revamping our weekly newsletter and recreating data spreadsheets for data I am behind on collecting. My poor little lunch sat in my mini-fridge all alone, waiting for me to retrieve it. And sat. And sat.

So when time came and the bell rang, I was eager to get out the door, scoop up my family and head to the center of the Fort Worth East Side projects. Sounds crazy, I know. But I was so ready to love on these kiddos and watch them laugh, run, play in a land where their little lives are nothing but full-on war, day in and day out. I know, because I lived it with them as their teacher for two years.

We arrived at our station, the bouncy slide, and little shoeless bodies were lined up, ready to climb up and slide down. I surveyed the small concrete area that had become a sugary wonderland for these kiddos, all thanks to the people at my church who organize the fall festival every year. You'd have thought I was pulling up to grandma's house when I nearly jumped out of the car, dragging my twin girls behind, looking for familiar faces. There my husband, here a couple from our small group, there another friend from church. And then my heart party started.

Eye contact with a wide-eyed little girl eating an apple. She looked at me and then toward the ground, still walking my way. "Hey Adrianna! Remember me?" I put my arm around her and asked her how she was doing in school. Another familiar face arrived. "You Mrs. Speer? You look different?" More inquiries as to grades and living situation. My conversations dominoed, one former student after another, hugs and shared cupcakes and "what have you been reading lately?" I have to admit, my volunteering wasn't as much working a booth as it was working the crowd, and my loving all over those kiddos was filling my heart so abundantly that it began to overflow.

Then one little girl, Janascia, told me another former student, Mikayla, was also at the festival. She grabbed my arm and walked me toward her. "Mikayla!" She yelled. As the girl's puppy dog-painted face turned to meet mine, we both squealed and hugged each other. "What are you doing here?" She said. Another few girls encircled us and we started talking about other teachers, easy classes and students who had moved.

I asked Mikayla what kind of grades she was making.
"I'm makin' A's, B's and F's," she stated.
"F's!" I said. "When you were in my class you were a straight A student.What's up with that?"
"That's 'cause you was my teacher. You were my best teacher ever!"

I'll tell you what. I may not ever make Teacher of the Year. I'm doing good to stay afloat, and most days I feel like I'm drowning in paperwork, progress reports, plans and people-pleasing. Many days I look at the piles of papers I haven't graded, the boards I haven't cutesified (I made up that word), and the students I failed to love on during the day and wonder why I do this to myself. Lord knows it ain't the money. My husband knows its not all the free time I'll have on the weekends. But the kids-- this kid -- are the solitary reason I spend 50 hours a week trying to reach just one of them. Because every once in a while, I'll reach out into a sea of hands, and one of them, like Mikayla, will reach her tiny brown hand out and grasp onto mine for dear life. I went there tonight to love on warstruck kids, but I left in tears of undeserved joy. Thank you, Mikayla.

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