As I walk onto the playground to pick up my class for the morning, I feel the brisk wind. His little body bouncing around on the ground already stands out. My concern was confirmed, he was wearing the same shirt he had worn the day before, and he had a thin tattered jacket not buttoned. He looks up with his goofy smile, and yells from the back of the line, “Hi, Mrs. Wright!” The usual routine has begun for the day. The line of first graders walk into my classroom and begin pulling out their binders and taking down their chairs. Being November, the routine is organized, for the most part. I hear a tumble and look over and see Billy’s chair fall to the floor. This is nothing out of the ordinary. As I quietly assist him, he whispers in a sad voice, “I couldn’t find my bag this morning.” “No worries,” I said calmly, and I gave him a hug.
We settle as a class and begin our morning calendar learning. Billy stands up, and walks towards me, I know what his question is going to be, “How long do we have until lunch?” “We will eat in four hours,” I remind him. When all of my friends got seated and started their learning stations, I call him up, and sneak him a snack. While he is sitting at my table he mentions that his shoes were hurting his feet. He said his dog chewed on them. In all honesty, a little bit of “what else?” start to come into my thoughts. Then, I take off his shoes. My heart is broken. There are no soles on the inside, and metal pieces are pushing into the soles of his feet each time he takes a step. “Billy, sit right here,” I say softly as I control my tears. While my partner teacher watches my class I quickly go to my van and grab a pair of my sons shoes that just happened to be in there. He sees me at the window, and I wave him over. His eyes lit up as if this was the best thing he had received in his life. Sadly those new shoes probably are, which boldly reminds me my children have more than they possibly need.
After the distractions of the morning, Billy was now at his seat ready to learn. He begins his work, and then I notice he was thinking about something causing his mind to wander. Calling him to come work with me, I ask, “what’s going on in your smart brain today?” He responds, “I can’t remember where I’m supposed to go after school.” Billy has a constant change in transportation after school, so the stability of the afternoon is not there. Looking in his precious eyes, I promise him, “Mrs. Wright will make sure you get to the right place.” We give each other a big hug, and he continues to work at my table. He pauses for a minute, and looks up, “how much longer do we have until lunch?” “It will be two more hours,” I remind him once again.
As the day continues, I guide the students around him as they are doing their work. While I teach, they soak up my words and listen. When the students have questions, they ask about the lessons I am teaching or the stories I am reading. When they are telling me stories, we all hear their six year old imagination going. I hear about the time Matt wrestled the alligator, or Alexis saw a Polar Bear in the forrest. The innocence is rampant. Billy’s questions and stories stand out. He is always quiet during teaching time. His brain is constantly thinking about life outside of school. The basic needs of life. The needs that the other children do not even know are needs because they are provided for them daily.
Billy comes to my classroom everyday to learn, yet his priority is not blending letters together to make a word. He’s not worried about whether he’s reading fiction or nonfiction. Whether the words he writes on paper match my standards or not do not reach his top priorities. His priorities and thoughts for the day are, Will I be fed? Can I walk without hurting? Will I be alone at the end of the day? Will anyone notice my clothes?
Our number one priority as teachers, as fellow moms, as a simple adult in a child's life, must be to meet the precious child's basic needs to the best of our ability. When these needs are met, then they are able to pursue making learning a priority at their ability.
As I went home that day, I openly told my own three boys the truth. There was no degrading or negative words, but the honest truth. "As children, you are blessed with an abundance of items in your life-- more than enough." There was no guilt added to the story, just explaining Billy's needs for making it through the next day. "Billy's family is going through a hard time. You're daddy and I went through a hard time too, but it was before you were here. Billy goes without a coat. His shoes have metal pieces sticking through."
Without second thought, they began digging. There were piles of toys, clothes and shoes. This momma and teacher was choking back tears. It's amazing the love that comes out of children when we share the truth. All they wanted was for Billy to be safe and comfortable. In Billy's eyes the next day, he was.
*Billy's name has been changed for his privacy.