Last year at around this time, on a windy Saturday, I took a ride over to my school, where the Student Council was holding its annual car wash. This was generally done as a seventh-grade fundraiser towards students’ graduation tee shirts the following year, as well as other miscellaneous eighth-grade events.
Students would use sponges and hoses to get around and on top of my SUV while I hung out for a while, chatting with faculty who had come to supervise, some parents, and, of course, the students themselves.
I wasn’t that far away, and it wasn’t a big deal for me to be there. It was just a way for me to offer support. And as always, when students saw staff outside the usual school day, we were always greeted a bit like super heroes, which I never really minded, as we had enough of the opposite feelings on a regular basis.
There were fundraisers of all sorts in school all year long, and most of us gave both our time and money for them. Some raised money to help after devastating events both far and near, such as Hurricane Katrina, and then Sandy, relief efforts. There was support for monthly health awareness events like Breast Cancer Awareness and Movember (Men’s Health), which involved a contest between male faculty trying to grow the most impressive beards over the course of a month.
There was also support, over the years, for the families of colleagues who had passed away. One, for our music teacher and avid Beatles fan, had all of the faculty up on the stage belting out some favorites. Did we sing “I get by with a little help from my friends?” – even though the next line is “I get high with a little help from my friends” – right in front of our middle schoolers? Or maybe we sang “All you need is love?” I do remember the sadness getting trapped within our linked arms just then, and the kids swaying in the audience, as we came together as one for our friend and teacher.
There was support for students who were battling cancer. We bought tee shirts, because what else could we do?
And, of course, there were always food and toy donations, especially during the holidays, though it sometimes seemed as if the teachers were the only ones donating. Homeroom during a collection became a daily exercise in cheerleading and outright begging at the same time. And it just drove me mad. How difficult can it be to ask one’s parents to donate a can of beans from the pantry or a Dollar Store toy – or even one that had never been open that was sitting in some dark corner of students’ own basements? Yes, some of our students could not donate, because they had very little, but in my school, this wasn’t the norm.
It was all about support, yes, but it was also about showing our students from a young age what we need to do when others are in need – and reinforcing the fact that there were, and there are, always others who are in need.
So I did it. We all did it. We donated, and we showed up.
Which brings me back to today. I’m thinking of my former students, so many students, now in their twenties and thirties, who are, I want to believe, donating to food banks and shelters and relief drives to help those suffering through this pandemic. I believe they are doing this because they learned – in their elementary and middle and high schools, and, for many, in their homes – what it means to support others.
I’m thinking, too, of some of these same students who may be halted in their own drives to succeed, who may no longing be getting that job offer upon graduation from college, or who may have lost the job they’d worked so hard to find: individuals who may be at the receiving end, for the first time, of someone else’s generosity.
As we all know, teaching isn’t just about academics. In fact, academics are the least of it sometimes. Our job is to raise good human beings – or, at the very least, to try.
And as I think back over my years in teaching, I’m feeling pretty good about that.