My wife and I are both school teachers. We teach in separate districts but thankfully our spring breaks fell on the same week this year. As a result, we took a trip today to Old Man’s Cave in the Hocking Hills region of Ohio. It is a beautiful area and I highly recommend the trip.
The entire hike surrounds you with the beautiful scenery you see above. My daughter Miley loved the waterfalls. I was amazed by the size of the rock that towers over Old Man’s Cave. Story says a man lived underneath that rock and I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to camp out under there. Of all the wonder there was to see there, it was a small tree that stuck out the most to me. I paused briefly to snap a picture of that tree as it literally appeared to be growing on a small outcropping of rock that made up the humongous overhang of rock known as Old Man’s Cave.
The pictures don’t do it justice to how resilient that tree must be. I know it’s difficult to see, but above the tree is even more rock. In fact, there was really no more room to grow, so you can see the tree just turned down and has continued to grow down over the edge of the cliff. I wondered how it received any water, but it must receive just enough rain to survive at that location. As soon as I saw this tree, I was reminded of my students that were born into rocky situations. I thought of those students whose life has placed them in a situation that seems insurmountable. I count myself extremely fortunate to have spent the first year of my career substitute teaching at a juvenile detention facility. All of the students at that facility were court ordered. It’s been six years since I’ve spent any significant time teaching in that setting but I remember those experiences like it was yesterday. In fact, I can’t imagine what my career would have been like without that experience. My commute, at the time, was 30 minutes one way. I can recall many drives home where I left the radio off and reflected on the conversations I had with those students. To consider that for nearly all of that population, those 9-12 months are the best months of their lives, it’s overwhelming. The mark left by students that were leaving that facility will never heal. The tears that landed at my feet will never dry. See, many of those students grew up in situations similar to the tree I noticed today. I needed the reminder that students can grow even under the most insurmountable conditions. I think our students need that reminder too. I can’t summarize all that I learned from my teaching experience in institutional education, but I know it allowed me to develop an intense passion for reaching those students that live in conditions that would appear to deny them of any opportunities for growth. I wish I had a magic recipe, but I don’t. I know it requires resilience on the part of the student and the teacher. And I know it requires your heart. Growth won’t occur in the absence of our heart. Here are my suggestions on ways you can give those students your heart:
- Be sure your classroom policies and procedures take into consideration the conditions in which those students go home to each day.
- If you can’t be anything else to those students, be a smiling face and a listening ear. You may be the only person that smiles and listens.
- Don’t allow your upbringing to shape your attitude towards those less fortunate. Give others your heart not because they are like you but because they are unlike you.
- Colossians 4:6 has been a permanent fixture on my white board for two years now: Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, so that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. Nothing strikes harder than the tongue. Guard your tongue, especially when considering those students facing uncertainty at home. Will what you say bring you closer to that student or take you further from that student?