When I spent my days in the classroom, teaching over thirty fifth graders, the holidays were always a difficult time. My students had hard lives, many of them getting themselves off to school in the morning with no one to return home to, some of them living in foster care, and others cast off to any relative that would take them in. Out of thirty two students, I would estimate about five of those kids lived in a home with both of their biological parents that were married.
The families for the most part were working class. The majority of them were good people that had just fallen into hard circumstances. I can't imagine the impact of today's economy on my former school's community. Not many days pass when I don't think of those students that left an impression on me. Like a stereotypical teacher I think about where they are now, how they are doing, and sometimes I even run into them in the most unusual places. There were a special few that I just wanted to take home with me, adopt. Be a mother to them, someone they didn't have in their lives, surround them with the love they deserved.
I never took for granted my job, the time I had to spend with them or how impressionable a typical ten year old is. I was the one that always brought up the importance of college and how I expected each and every one of them to pursue a college eduction. I always divulged to them that I was a first generation college student in my family and if I could become a teacher, they could become anything they wanted. But there is only so much you can do.
Many years near the holidays my heart would grow heavy for them. I knew some of them would be showered with gifts, all paid for with borrowed money. Or others wouldn't receive any gifts. I made a point to find a way to make the last day of school before holiday break special for them, knowing it may be the only celebration they would have for the holidays.
One year on a Friday before break, early in the morning my desk was filled with small paper plates of baked goods, handmade cards, little tokens and trinkets from my students. Occasionally I was given a gift, but I never expected it. I will never forget a heavy aluminum foil wrapped gift that was placed on my desk. My student asked me if I was going to open it. I remember thinking as I picked it up, boy is this going to be some dreadful baked good that I am going to break a tooth on and smile with delight saying how much I loved it.
When I ripped open the aluminum foil, in a green plastic tray sat a big rock. The rock was shaped in a heart and my eyes just filled with tears. It was so beautiful. My student, Sean told me how he spent weeks searching for the most perfect rock to give me for Christmas. Finally one night when he was exploring the neighborhood, he happened upon this rock next to an open field. He wrapped it himself in aluminum foil and couldn't wait to give it to me. He explained how the rock was perfect for me because the heart reminded him of how much I cared for him.
It's one of the only gifts I've kept from my students other than handmade cards and letters. It will always have a special place in my heart. Here's a photo of the rock, the rock my daughters ask about all the time, the rock that sits on a bookshelf and is so much more than a piece of earth to me. It's a beautiful reminder of the importance of caring for other people because deep down we've got a lot of heart to share.