Working in the public school system has given me the opportunity to help and touch the lives of countless children. What I didn’t expect was that I would encounter a few children that would actually touch and change my life for the better.
I work as a paraprofessional, which means I’m a teacher’s aide in the classroom. I’ve worked in various classrooms on several different grade levels. Some of my work has been done in all-inclusion classes designed for children with special needs, and others have been in mainstream classrooms. Each class has impacted me in a different way but there are still two children that will always have a piece of my heart.
One little boy we’ll call Ralph. I met Ralph when he was in 2nd grade. He was eight years old and living in a foster home with his sister. They shared the same mother but had different fathers. I had a hard time understanding Ralph because as a baby, he had lost all his teeth to tooth decay. He had recently received new veneers and was both proud and uncomfortable with his new smile. Ralph was quiet, but very sweet. He had a lot to say but his difficulty with speech kept him from always speaking his mind. I took to him right away. There was something about him that just touched my heart. He referred to his foster mom as Ms. Lisa. He loved Ms. Lisa and her husband, Mr. Frank. They were very good to Ralph and his sister. I always knew when Ralph had a visitation scheduled with his mother. He was agitated, moody, and even a little sad. On those days, I always brought him a little something special. It was likely against the rules, but I wasn’t doing any harm. I’d bring him a brand new pencil, a bookmark, or a sticker. It was nothing big, but to Ralph, it was everything. It was someone showing they cared about him. Someone was making him feel special. He was getting positive attention. Ralph slowly opened up to me throughout the school year and I was sad to say goodbye in June. But he was a more confident and prepared young man than he was the first time I met him. To this day, when I see a brand new, not sharpened pencil, I think of Ralph.
Fast forward several years and I was working in a Kindergarten classroom. That’s where I met Olivia. A beautiful and bright little girl with pigtails and white tights. She wore a dress almost every day and almost always had a smile on her face. Because she was so intelligent and well-behaved, I didn’t always get to spend much time with her. She didn’t really need me. About halfway through the year, I saw a change in this sweet, kind little girl. She began acting out in class. Losing her patience with the lessons and being rude to her classmates. Some days, her pigtails looked like they hadn’t been touched since the previous day. Her dresses were replaced by leggings or jeans with worn out knees. I asked the teacher if everything was okay and soon learned that Olivia’s parents were getting divorced and there was a heated custody battle going on. Olivia had a baby brother also - he was just two-years-old. My heart broke for this little girl. I was both amazed and horrified to see how much the home environment can impact a child’s life. I never did learn what happened with Olivia. Things did not settle before the school year ended. I hope that she regained her kind spirit and is still wearing dresses, tight, and pigtails. I think of her often.
I use my experiences in the classroom to learn more about myself and my own children. I reflect on the kids that pass through the doors and they often teach me as much as I teach them. I know I touched Ralph’s life and I hope he still thinks of me. And even if he doesn’t, I know that for that school year, I made Ralph’s days easier. And I know that even if she didn’t realize it, that I created a safe and loving environment for Olivia. I do believe teachers are the unsung heroes of this world.