Other teacher-writers have been eloquent on a child’s need to feel known. I have learned about how just a few questions asked, exchanges made during noisy, horrible lunchroom duty can change a teacher’s relationship with a student. And another teacher wrote of her 2X10 method- of choosing a hard-to-reach kid, and having a short, personal conversation with them twice a day for ten days. With some investment, a different relationship altogether.
Today I am thinking about the adults in my school building. Many of us feel like me, nestled in our team, happy with our long-loved colleagues, with many personal relationships and so much shared history. Shared jokes and texts. But not everyone in my building has that. And not everyone even has access to it.
I work twice a week with an older gentleman, who I’ll call Mr. Gray. He is a dedicated aide, so he works one-on-one with a student in our school who is autistic. When I stop to think about it, his job means Mr. Gray has only one other actual colleague in the building. It also means he has a lunch break almost no one else has.
Mr. Gray is calm and quiet, just right for working with his charge. He speaks slowly, moves slowly. He is there early (he has to arrive very early, to get one of the few “extra” parking spaces, as we don’t have enough in the garage. The remainder are first-come, first-served, even though he needs it every day.). He is impeccably polite, holding the door for me, greeting me like he means it, looking at my face as he listens to my response.
And he has given me gifts! He brought in a set of science books for my classroom. Ancient, yellowed pages, on radio waves, air traffic controllers, and on construction. (I often say, not much written in science for young children has gotten out of date, but these had.). I placed them respectfully in their proper bins in my science library.
And yesterday, as we were chatting, I learned that Mr. Gray has a side gig. He is a photographer for a local television station! I was enthusiastic about it, and he told me about the wide range and variety of stories they cover. Especially since they need to fill two channels, 24/7!!!
Today, Mr. Gray handed me a fat manila envelope. Full of 8X10 glossies- his photographs. A singer, a musician, a hawk, a preying mantis. I didn’t have time to look at them all yet. I told Mr. Gray that I would take good care of them and would enjoy looking at his work.
We all need community, and we all need to feel known. And not just by our one-dimensional professional label. Known more deeply, seen. Mr. Gray is looking at the world, and at me. And I am looking back at him.