I had the opportunity to reconnect with an old friend from school last weekend. I always jump at the chance to see people. I love to hear a little bit about their journeys in life. It’s interesting, though. Inevitably, we get to talking about other classmates and wonder what they might be doing now. As we looked back at our old friends or school mates, I realized that we were both looking at them as though they were exactly the same as they were thirty…some years ago. Well, maybe they’ve gained weight or lost hair, but otherwise they were exactly the same in our minds.
It was when we spoke of one classmate who is a friend of mine now that I suddenly realized what we were doing.
“I remember he was always a little shit in school.”
That was in elementary school. Wow. Were we really seeing these old friends as still having the maturity of a 12 year old? I know I’ve done this, without thinking. Who was the girl who was always too popular to speak to us lowly, ordinary students? I wouldn’t want to run into her again, would I? And I certainly would have no desire to find out anything about those nasty boys who loved to tease. They’re probably still doing the same stupid things they did then.
I wonder what people would remember about me.
(It is a little known fact that I was a Brownie dropout.)
I look at things differently now because, after nearly 20 years of teaching kindergarten, I have seen children grow and change throughout their years at school. Often the children with whom I struggled so much, turned out to be most amazing adults with loads of creative energy to give to the world. When I see these lovely adults, I look back and wonder why I ever worried about them.
I always had my fair share of interesting children in my kindergarten. For some of them, sitting down and listening to a story was almost impossible. Others could be aggressive at times, taking out their frustrations on other children. Some had trouble just fitting in. On very rare occasions, we would have to make the decision to ask a family to leave the school, but only in very extreme cases. I always preferred to keep a child in my kindergarten, even if he or she was a “great challenge”.
Why? It would have made my teaching much easier if I could send off the most challenging children and not have to deal with them. It would make for a more peaceful classroom, one where the children would play more harmoniously. This is preferred, right?
We need to keep the children safe. We also need to be able to admit when a child has needs that our program cannot meet. It would be arrogant of us to say we could work successfully with every child. There are cases when families must be asked to find another setting for their child.
However, that’s the extreme. Our world is made up of many different kinds of people and somehow, we need to learn how to interact with them. Our children need to learn this as well. As a teacher, I had the advantage of seeing the children interact with each other. Those teasing boys that I detested when I was young weren’t really picking on me. They just weren’t civilized yet. It takes awhile. But hey, most of us have become quite civilized by the time we reach 25 or 30. Those “popular” girls who snubbed me? Um, actually, if I look back honestly, I was probably the one doing the snubbing. When I was uncomfortable in a social situation, it was much easier to blame the other person. Realistically, it’s hard enough for adults to figure this one out. Children generally can’t see the situation clearly or express clearly and honestly what happens in social situations. When an adult asks them to describe social stuff, they often oblige by giving us a long description of something that may or may not have happened anywhere, except in their imagination.
The classmate we were remembering last weekend has had a responsible, professional job for many years. He takes care of his family and took care of his parents when they were older. When I remember back to my students, I immediately think of those wonderful, challenging, quirky kids. One is now a musician, another is a dancer. There are mechanics in the group and mathematicians. I suspect that at least one of my former challenges will become a doctor, a lawyer, or a politician. They will bring their creativity along with them wherever they go. They were not easy students to have in class and they demanded of me, a degree of creativity and patience that I might not have known I possessed, had they not been there. They made me work harder than I wanted to at times but I am grateful to each one of them. They were my teachers.
Coming around full circle, I find myself hoping I can reconnect with some of those classmates whom I found challenging. It’s been thirty…some years. I sure hope I’ve changed!