How do you explain love? How do you teach someone to love a group of people the way you do? "Hey, meet my family. Ok. Go love them."
It is surprisingly easier than it may seem.
In Don Miller's Blue Like Jazz he says, when explaining his new found love for jazz music, "Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way."
So that is what I do. That is my job, my mission, my passion. To show others how to love, just by doing. Leading the way, just with my actions. Which is why if you follow me into that gym, into that cafeteria, into that classroom, the only preparation you're going to get is a role call.
Because I can't tell you how to love them. I can just show you how I do.
One boy was running around, or more like running away from a leader. Two had switched names with each other and there was really no way to tell who was who at any given moment. One was slurping applesauce from a cup and the fifth grade girls were on a whole other level.
Another one of my older fourth graders was stepping up in a major way. I put my new friend with him to work on subtracting fractions. Usually, this kid is notorious for getting halfway through his homework and complaining about wanting to go to the gym. He usually storms through a door or slams a stack of books, huffing and puffing. Yesterday, however, he sat down. Jaw set. Bent over a few really hard math problems, and worked diligently until he was done.
It was heavy on my heart to let him know how proud of him I was. I think I told him at least three times yesterday. But what was even more important to me, was that he heard me telling someone else. So I sat down next to my friend who had been helping him, and I told her a little bit about F. About his leadership skills, about what a good athlete he was, about how excellent his attitude had been lately. How proud we were of him. I watched the light flicker in his eyes even though he refused to make eye contact with either one of us. And he only tightened up a little when I gave him a really big hug.
Cultivating leadership is one of our greatest goals.
One day, Frank will change the world. Just wait.
One of my babies, the one who I've consistently had the most progress with, was throwing a temper tantrum over work pages his teacher had assigned. He has a C in the class. Because he wasn't turning his work in. Every assignment he turns in, he gets full credit for. 100's fill up the columns on his sheet. But each 0 brings his grade down dramatically. Tears streamed down his face. He was calling us stupid, his face all tightened up and his body stiff. He's a small fourth grader, and more often than not all it takes is a big hug or a good tickle to get him back in shape. But not yesterday.
Yesterday he was fighting all his demons.
Marcus finally came into the room. He explained to Mary and me what was exactly going on with the homework and patiently stood there as T crossed his arms tight over his chest and hot tears slid down his cheeks. We were all stupid, the little guy said. We were all bossy. We were giving him too much work.
Finally Marcus looked at him and said, "You have a C, T. That's average. T, do you want to be average?"
And I saw it.
I always see it eventually.
Looking back on your own life, think about those moments, which jolt you awake. Which demand your attention and cause you to lift your head. The moment when something clicks, something falls into place, something finally makes sense. Maybe you're lucky enough to remember. Maybe you've been lucky enough to see it happen in a child.
Do you want to be average?
I left the room. Reduce stimulation, reduce distraction. Promote organization and focus. Encourage and correct and redirect. That's our job.
When the day was over, homework packed up, trash thrown away, most of the lights turned off, I went to find Mary and T. They were putting his books away in his backpack. The tears were dried on his face and the light was back in his eyes. I looked at Mary for confirmation.
"He did great, Miss Anna," she said. "He finished everything I told him to and even started on another page. He's so good at this, and I'm not just saying that."
I smiled and looked to T. "Is that right, little man?" He nodded rapidly with his jaw set, like he always does. I squatted down and pressed my forehead up against his. (Think Boy Meets World. Sometimes, you have to get really close to get someone's attention. Sometimes you have to make physical contact to get your point across.)
"Do know how much I love you?"
He nodded and both our heads moved.
"Do you know that I think you're one of the smartest boys I know?"
"Do you know how proud I am that you finished, even when we had such a bad day?"
"Can I get a hug?"
He threw his arms around my waist and squeezed tight and then reached up and kissed my cheek. "I love you, Miss Anna."
I sent him to hug Mary and we walked down to the gym together.
This is my life, friends.
Today I am wondering if you want to be average?
How badly do you crave excellence?
What kind of leader do you want to be?
Can you look at me square in the eye, tell me your name, and shake my hand -- proud of yourself and who you're becoming?