Did we really believe that there would be rules or guidelines or “normal” in the teaching profession? To believe so is not to have spent any time in a classroom.

While there are copious curriculum guidelines, district rules and protocols that are school-specific, none of these have any bearing on the way that a day in the classroom takes place. The obvious variable is the children whom we educate, protect, direct and hug.

My most recent example is a first-grade class of special needs children. With 19 students at unique academic, social and emotional needs, responding to each of them as needed becomes a full-time and frequently exasperating process.

Little boy Nicholas remembers me from a previous visit and repeatedly approaches me for hugs. He is spontaneous, unpredictable and often oblivious to what is expected of him. The special needs teacher advises me that he has brain damage and epilepsy.

On the other side of the special needs spectrum is little boy Reynolds. He talks incessantly, cries for little reason and does anything and everything to call attention to himself.

And then we have Joaquin who is determined to do exactly opposite of that which is requested of him. When other students line up for recess, he squats and faces the wall, arms in the defensive mode.

Other students are closer to the nebulous concept of obedience. When going to recess, three or four say goodbye and hug me. And out of nowhere, Reynolds bursts out, “I love you.”

None of the teaching directives or rubrics prepare you for the heart component of teaching. Allowing the students to get to know you as a person generates greater compliance and a bond that teaching reading, writing and arithmetic by the book doesn’t produce.

If I am paying sufficient attention, students clearly articulate wordlessly what they need most. It may be affection, recognition, information or simple acceptance. But it’s never about me. You can be certain that as far as my class knows, I never have a headache, joint pain, stress or conflict. Happily, I deliver whatever is needed, teaching and learning at the same time, in the same space. Shalom.

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