Monday, August 15, 2016

When Work is Love

I am so lucky. Back in June, on the last day of school at the building where I work, we continued a lovely tradition of serenading the fifth graders as they exited the school as well as their elementary careers. Each year at this celebration I cry, with only a touch of embarrassment. Because, and this is why I am lucky, I grow to love each and every child who is in our classroom.

Impossible, you say? Every child? Oh, but you have to know that each child is so easy to love, and so worth loving. The returns on loving children are vast. Of course what there is to love about a child is unique to that child. It may be a wicked sense of humor, or an oversized heart, or a talent for writing, or a quirky way of seeing the world, or a sweet shyness. Anything, really. Knobby knees, large ears, a habit of sucking on a strand of hair when deep in thought.

Now that I have been doing this for six years, there are some hundred and fifty children (more if you count the ones who come in for math instruction, and I do - I have a good memory for people) about whom I care. My cat does something funny, and I think, "Oh, Paul would love this story." I go to a baseball game, and I make a mental note to tell Max about the lopsided score. I camp in the same park Maddy did a year ago, and wonder whether I will see a bear, as she did (and then wrote about in a wonderfully funny essay). I am so lucky.

I am so lucky, because the larger part of my job - the teaching is the smaller part, because young children are ready to learn and by and large do learn, with or without me - is to love these little people as if they were my own. And that is easy. Do parents understood how much we love their children? I'm not sure that I did, in the time and space when I was a parent but not yet working at a school.

No, I am not a teacher, and I do not decide what the curriculum should be (neither do teachers, sadly), or how the day should go. I am what is called a paraprofessional, an assistant to the teacher. "Only a para?" ask some of my friends and family. "But you were trained for so much more than that!"

If only I could help these well-meaning people understand that their question is wholly beside the point.

The way I see it is this: not having certain responsibilities (planning, grading, paperwork) allows me more time and energy to love the children. That's the way I like it. And if I have done my job by expressing the love I feel, that's the way the children like it, too.

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