The Only Education Reform That Matters: Love
I started off Valentine's Day with a heavy dose of Stevie Wonder and Aventura, a random sampling of love songs I have on my iPod just to pass the time on the train. The school I work at is always super-silent at the time I get in there, perfect for getting my mind and papers ready for the 8 AM start time. About 55 minutes later, the silence grows into a chatter, then a squeal and sneaker screeches.
As usual, school began with adults ushering children into classes. When I stepped out in the hallway, the pinks and reds worn by children and teachers dominated the blue and green paint pervasive in our hallways. Girls with heart-patterned gift bags and roses—and boys secretly tucking their chocolate boxes in the bags—all trying to find their pseudo-paramours before heading into their first period class.
As I walked down a hallway, one of my student ambassadors walked by with a bouquet of roses. When I noticed her, I immediately joked, "Oh, for me? You shouldn't have!" Kids usually reply to that with a tucking away and stiff arm about two feet in front of them just to make sure we don't get any ideas about touching their gift. But her response was different.
"Actually, one of them is for you, but I gotta find a way to get this one out."
"You know I was just kidding right?"
"Yeah, but seriously, one of them is for you. Actually, it’s this one right here."
Um, what? I blinked rapidly for a second, then said, "Take care of all your other people first."
When I went back to my office, I got back to work on a few things and then, true to her word, she came in and handed me a dark pinkish rose.
I said, "Thank you." She said, "You’re welcome," and went on her merry way.
Now, to be honest I don't normally show emotion during school. Having a professional manner and attire more than makes up for my occasional disorganization—I know where everything is, but you might not—and keeping a little bit of extra distance from the students you serve assures that we clearly delineates the roles we play in school.
Yet, the little nuggets of gratitude can keep an otherwise lethargic educator's gears going. When those paper stacks get too high, the demands too tedious, the conversations too one-sided, the love of students gives us the reason. The opportunities we create for them to learn get reciprocated in the opportunities they create for us to grow.
The times they spontaneously find themselves in the same room with you and want to review what they had just learned in class, or the off-the-cuff conversations you have with them about Instagram, sports, and why they're wrong for shouting out other people's crushes in the middle of class—when you get back in class mode, they work harder for you because they start to appreciate you as a human, the very beginnings of what love actually is.
A year ago, the same student, a brilliant student by any measure, told me the only reason she even stayed excited about school was because she loved being part of the programs I run. Across America, despite all the nonsense, we have teachers that students can say this about, teachers who, despite themselves, still come into work knowing they aspire to be better people for them more so than for themselves.
In other words, just shut up already and care about students, and not just in speeches either.
School means accepting any and all students and figuring out the situation that works best for them, but the system we currently work under presumes guilt, error, fault. Let’s fix this, not simply with a reform that shifts chairs, but with one that shifts attitudes. We need a serious dedication to love, directed intently on the children we serve daily.
A real school for children puts forth love in action, even when the system disallows those emotions.
Love shaped hand silhouette image via Shutterstock
A version of this post originally appeared at The Jose Vilson