Each new school year, I sit back and reflect upon the year prior. As I have discussed many times, last summer I was dealing with the stress that came along with helping my father cope with his mental illness. Much of last year was spent in survival mode, not truly thinking there would be a happy ending. However, that narrative changed quickly when I arrived back to school. I’d like to take a moment to tell you all about a story that doesn’t end. A story that began to unfold the day I arrived home from traveling to New York to check my father into a mental institution in an attempt to not lose any more of the man who gave me the best childhood I could ever imagine.
Defeated, scared, and feeling as if I had just ran a marathon and came in last, I walked into my classroom. We had a week left prior to the school year starting and, along with all the pressure of my family situation, came my usual anxiety of never feeling ready for my new group of incredible kids to walk through the doors on the first day. Sitting on the floor, surrounded by thousands of papers, books to organize, and furniture in piles, my phone rang. A new student and her family were coming in to meet me and I completely forgot! Were they going to see right through my smile and know I wasn’t in a good place? Was it too late to run and hide? Because the last thing I wanted to do was ruin our first encounter, but my heart was so heavy. Before I could plan my exit strategy I was opening the door to the front office and quickly my sadness faded as if it were a distant memory. Because there in front of me was a beautiful little girl named Bryleigh. A beautiful little girl who ran straight into my arms and simultaneously opened my heart. As we walked down to my classroom, I immediately could sense that her parents were just as nervous as I was. They needed to be assured, as do all parents, that their child was going to be loved, nurtured, and welcomed with open arms. And from the moment I met her, I know that would come naturally to me.
You see, Bryleigh is one of the most incredible children I have ever met. What makes her so special is one extra chromosome, which understandably has made mom and dad protective over their fierce, persistent little girl. I (not yet a mom) could never understand the amount of trust it takes to love your child’s teacher, but Melissa and Ben have never made me feel as if I were anything less than a rockstar. Fast forward a year later, this is my letter to them, letting them know that their daughter is more loved than they will ever know, and I will forever be grateful to have been her first teacher.
Being a Kindergarten educator is demanding work. On top of teaching children how to read, which is a challenging task in and of itself, you are the one who helps develop their character. You teach them to be accepting, to test the world when things aren’t fair, to love one another for who they are. Above all else it is our duty to teach children to be kind. And let me tell you, in my classroom and in my life, kindness isn’t simply a smile we give a stranger, or helping a friend when they fall. Of course, these are all important life lessons, but to me, the true definition of kindness goes much deeper than the surface.
There are times when I look back upon last year and think to myself, Bryleigh taught me more than I could ever teach her. With the help of my AMAZING teaching assistant, Jessica, our classroom became a family. One in which we truly saw one another, loved each other for our imperfections that made us all the more perfect, and stood up for each other in the face of adversity. And through it all Bryleigh was a beautiful role model of what a friend should exemplify. She persisted when others thought she may fail. She smiled when times were tough. She loved so tremendously that everyone in her presence adored her (trust me when I say, she is pretty much a celebrity at our school). So, when I sit back and reflect upon last school year my heart is filled with hope. Hope for a better future for our children. Hope that we can continue to shape minds that go on and fight for kindness throughout their lives, because I think we can all agree that our world needs a little more of that right now. Finally, hope that there are more Bryleigh’s out there to show us the way and change our darkest nights to the brightest of days.