My Love Story

I’m going to tell a love story. It’s not one of those cheesy story where one person miraculously finds another, and they adjust their lives to accommodate for their new, beautiful relationship. It’s a story about a group of people, and the beautiful ways each person expresses pure, genuine love for every single person in the community. This is a story about how lucky I am to have seen and felt love in my classroom.

Recently, I have seen a shift in my role as a teacher. There have been days when my children are so in love with the world that they become their own teachers. They are in love with the materials in our classroom, so they are delightfully engaged in play all day. They are in love with the quest for knowledge, always eager to construct more truths about the world. When they ask questions, their hearts are so open, so ready to fall more deeply in love with the world they live in. And they’re answering questions for each other, eager to share what they know with those they love.

They are so in love with each other. Full days have gone by where I have not had to mediate a single conflict. When conflicts have come up, my children would tackle the solution together. It is a beautiful thing to watch three and four year olds realize a problem, acknowledge the deep importance of it, and then work together to negotiate a solution. If the conflicted parties were unable to resolve the issue themselves, there was always another friend to help out. My children were so full of love for their friends that they would stop everything to offer their support. It’s a beautiful thing.

These expressions of love are part of what I expected when I started teaching. I knew that an unwritten implication of my job description was to encourage acts of love with everything I do. What I did not expect was that I, too, would be the recipient of love.

For some time now, I have planned to move from Asheville to New York City for graduate school. To help myself process my feelings around this transition, I directly addressed my emotions around the move. The first time I talked about it, I told them that I was sad to leave all my friends. I told them that there was not much nature in NYC, and that I would miss the mountains and hiking trails. I told them that there were lots of trains in the city, and I was excited to ride the train everywhere.

During this first conversation, I was not sure who was listening, or what they were processing. But that next morning, I had a number of parents tell me that their child had talked to them about me moving away. I watched as some of my children started taking frequent pretend train trips to New York City. One of my boys brought in his book about the subway system. These gestures might seem small, but they meant the world to me. My children were telling me, “You are so important to me that I want to be part of your transition.”

As my last day in the classroom got closer, my children continued to bring themselves into my transition. They asked me lots of those opened-heart questions (When was I going to come back? Would I miss them? Was I bringing my cat?) and they gave me tons of extra-long hugs. One of my boys kept telling me that he would miss his friends when he went to the beach. I knew what he was telling me. This was his way of empathizing. He, too, knew what it would feel like to be away from those he loved. He was assuring me that it was OK to be sad, and that I do have some wonderful people who love me no matter where I am.

This is a love story that has one of those sad, but beautiful endings. My last day in the classroom has passed, and I do miss my children and coworkers terribly. I am moving in a matter of weeks. Even though I know some of these goodbyes are permanent, I am lucky enough to have felt the love from these children. My transition will be easier because I know I have their love in my heart. And I know these children will continue to love in beautiful and unexpected ways. This love story will continue for the rest of their lives.

-“But of course it isn’t really goodbye, because the Forest will always be there… and anybody who is Friendly with Bears can find it.”- A. A Milne, A House at Pooh Corner

Can I Play with You?

Sometimes, when I think about all the conflicts in the world, I like to think about what I would do if the people involved were all young children in my classroom. I know that conflict is an inescapable part of life, but I wonder what would happen if well all stayed in touch with that child-like sense of play.

Let me tell you a story: About halfway through the school year, we got a new child. He was significantly younger than most of the other children in our class, and he had some initial challenges connecting with his peers. For the first few months he was in our room, he would watch children building with blocks, then he would storm in and knock down what they had just built. Our room would erupt with screams and tears, and this child would run away.

When he did this same thing almost every day for weeks, sometimes my temptation was to forbid this child from going to block center when other children were playing there. It felt easier. I would no longer be faced with this occasional chaos. But, my children helped me to see that there was a greater conflict here. One that involved considerable more work and patience.

I could tell that this child, like ever child I’ve ever met, wanted to play with his peers. Obviously destroying their buildings was not the way to do it. But, I’m not sure he could think of another way. When I saw this child begin to approach the block center, I would prep him, “I see you want to play with these children. Let’s go ask them, ‘can I play with you?'” He would follow my instructions, and I remained close to help him integrate into their play.

It was hard work. For all of us. This little boy had to use all the impulse control he could muster, and sometimes he remembered to control himself a little too late. My co-teacher and I had to constantly supervise this child. There were days when I felt like my sole responsibility was to follow him around, helping him resolve conflict after conflict. And the other children had to give him the space to practice being a friend. They had to say, “yes you can play.” They had to accept the fact that sometimes he would still knock down their blocks.

But here’s the amazing thing: they let him play. When he knocked down their blocks, they would cry, then they would ask him to help build it up again. And they would keep playing. Together.

A few weeks ago, I watched as one of my girls turned to this boy and asked, “Do you want to build a hotel.” They went to block center and started building. They played all morning. That afternoon, I rubbed her back as she settled down for nap. This same little boy, who months earlier would knock down everything she built, sat down on my lap and started rubbing her back. He sweetly whispered to me, “I love her. She’s my friend.”

This is not the only time I’ve seen this friendship transformation in the classroom. Children seem to have an innate sense of forgiveness for the sake of friendship. Even the ones that tend to use the most challenging behaviors always find at least one person to play with them.

Why can’t we, as adults, hold onto this same capacity for friendship? Maybe we forget how to ask to play. Maybe we are too committed to playing in a specific way with specific people, and cannot make space for another peer. I sometimes catch myself completely avoiding those whom I come in contact with– akin to forbidding them to go to block center. It takes time and energy to play with someone who has really wronged you. But, in the end, what’s more powerful than being able to say, “I love her. She’s my friend”?

-“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It’s an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and right now.” -Mr. Rogers