When I first started teaching in a public school in the US, I used my newly minted ELL/ESL degree to land a job teaching both ESL and math in the ELL program at a local middle school. I had six students in each class, my classroom was a former teacher lounge on the fourth floor (from the era of smoking lounges) that had enough room for the table, as long as no students actually needed to get up or move around the room, and windows larger than the ceilings are tall in most houses.
My students were all from Uruguay and they traveled in a group, so I had them twice in a day. One of my kids was Christian, bright, fresh, and almost never in school. I would call him during class on my cell phone and the conversation invariably went as follows:
Christian: Si. Quien es?
Me: Ms. Durling.
Christian: Oh. Hi.
Me: We’re in class, Christian. Where are you?
Christian showed up again years later in my GED class.
And again earlier this spring, at my house. Turns out he had recently moved into the multi-floor apartment building next door. He is just as fresh as ever (“I’ve been knowing you live here, Ms. Durling, but, to be honest, I didn’t want to talk to you.”), now married and with an eighteen-month-old beauty of a baby.
I saw him this weekend when I pulled up to my house and he came over to tell me that his mom had died the night before, unexpectedly. We cried. He kept telling me it was all right, but it’s not–it breaks my heart to watch him growing up in this horrible way. He is my student and has a home, always, in my heart. When I told him that, he said, “Your munchkins.”
Yes, Christian, my munchkins, the children of my heart, the reason I go to work every day. This blog post is a thank you to all of “my children,” all of them over the decades. And a reminder to myself that my words are ridiculously, frighteningly impactful–almost twenty years later, Christian still refers to himself as one of my munchkins. This post, then, is also a reminder to myself to be always vigilant with my words. This is so hard to do in the rush and bustle of making an average of four decisions a minute, but Christian’s presence in my life reminds me of the importance of putting the students at the heart of my decisions.