The joy of knowing children
Today I was struck by an uncommon thought. As I was in the process of dismissing one group of students and collecting the next, I was suddenly overcome with a wave of fundamental gratitude. There was a joy I felt in that moment; a sense of pleasure and comfort. I recognized it as the joy of knowing children: knowing their names, becoming familiar with their dispositions and idiosyncrasies, marveling at their strengths and savoring their spirited individuality. This is the work of my hours, days and years: learning people.
Hard to say exactly what it was, the trigger of this particular revelation. Perhaps a conversation with a disappointed student led me to it. While I could make some sense of her upset, I encouraged her to look deeper to find out what was really bothering her. Or perhaps it was through playing catch with a young student who struggles with that skill. Or the pride I could see in one boy’s face when I asked him to help me demonstrate passing on-the-go.
What happens in that precious exchange between student and teacher when there is total recognition? Both adult and child share the thrill and intimacy of being known by the other. This is the kind of knowing that takes time and patient observation over months and perhaps years. Children who step out of line to offer a quick hug or the furious waving that ensues when I pass through the noisy cafeteria – these all remind me of the privilege I enjoy. In taking the time and effort to get to know each of them, I enjoy their remarkably generous trust – the type of trust that allows them to give me the full truth when I least expect it or to fix their attention perhaps a moment longer than normal on a task of just the right challenge. These are moments to savor, even if they may also be accompanied by exasperation and confusion. This also belongs to the messiness of learning people.
For all of these young individuals it makes a tremendous difference to them to feel acknowledged, appreciated, welcomed and known. And it makes a tremendous difference to me to see that I can be a source of those feelings for each student. This is the joy of knowing children and learning about myself in the process.