I was fully prepared for the accolades I would receive from teaching. I was well on my way towards patting myself on the back and crowing “What a GREAT teacher you are, Nerd!” while blowing smoke up my own backside. Two years of teaching almost behind me, and so far, everything I’ve done has been met with praise and glory and…blah, blah, blah. Enough of that–here’s the reality of working with children — they are great equalizers when it comes to feelings of self-importance.
Nothing deflates an over-sized ego faster than dealing with the untimely death of a child. No, not my own child — I wouldn’t be writing this post with such reckless flippancy. Besides, if it were my 13- year old child who just succumbed to complications from his 6-year battle with leukemia, I’d be on the way to the nearest psych ward, hoping for a voluntary psychiatric hold.
But today, as I write this, there is a family here who is losing their child to the battle. Most likely, right this very minute they are gathering at his bedside, holding his hands, and praying one last time as a cohesive, family unit. Then, his younger sisters will leave as they see their brother alive for the very last time. And this is what is tearing me apart.
I met this family last year, when I was his teacher. Despite weekly chemo treatments, horrible side effects and general feelings of “ick”, he still managed to earn straight As and complete all his work at home. His parents insisted he maintain as “normal” a life as possible — going to school, doing his homework, taking his tests on schedule, etc., etc. His chemo treatments were always scheduled on Friday, so he’d have the weekend to catch up on homework (between bouts of nausea, I bet). I could tell where he was in his treatments based upon the amount of red fuzz he had on his head — the less hair, the more dosage of chemo he would have in him. But, never, ever, did he lose ground in my class. His parents insisted upon it, and he made it happen.
He moved onto eighth grade this year, so I lost him as a student. But, his little sister took his place at a desk in my 6th grade room this year. And, much like he was, she never lets her brother’s health situation get in the way of her schooling. Every day she comes to class, ready, eager and willing to participate. She eagerly reads out loud, answers questions about grammar, bops up to be the first person to share her writings — everything that happens in my class room, she embraces enthusiastically and with such focus and attention. All the while knowing when she goes home at the end of the day, her parents will be at the hospital, hoping for a miracle for her older brother.
I’ve always known the world needs positive role models. I get so disgusted when I hear that people with questionable morals and values are being idolized in the press and put on pedestals for the world to “ooh” and “aw” over, when all they’ve really done is just figure out a way to act obnoxious and foolish and get away with it.
They aren’t role models to me. The role models — the ones who deserve to be placed on a pedestal, are the ones like the family I’ve met, who are going to be burying their 13-year old son and brother shortly. Through this horrific battle, they have remained close, strong in their faith and stoic in their deeds.
They are my role models. They have taught me more than I could ever teach them. What a great way to keep my ego in check.