Stapled to the wall of my classroom is a world map, around which dozens of cards are posted. On these cards are the introductions my students wrote on the first day of this school year. So much has changed for them since September. Lately, I find myself going back to read these cards over. They are my reminder that these humans are just kids, despite the very adult stories they carry. Some I had already known for a couple of years, and some I had only known for a day, when I asked them to write a few basic facts about themselves. This map, framed by teenage words, is nothing more than a symbol for the community and trust that we build every day. Our journey together is never linear. For every step forward, there are often two steps back. While we grind our pencils down to nubs writing essays and sweat over annotating short stories, we have conversations. We talk about life goals, past mistakes, fears, and relationships. We talk about making better choices, changing the world, what it means to have faith, and being good people. The one thing we never do, is give up. The one thing we consistently focus on, is that no one can take away our education. The one thing we never, ever let go of, is hope.
Walking into a room full of teenagers is never easy. It’s fun, it’s exhilarating, it’s exhausting, and it’s maddening. It’s a heartbreaking, uplifting labyrinth of hormone fueled emotions. Teaching high school is a crazy job, but I love it. How to handle each individual without bias or presumption, to expand minds and open hearts, to build foundations that raise up each equally is a responsibility that I never stop thinking about.
This weight has been heavier in recent days. I have cried in my car driving to and from school and have been physically ill. Looking into eyes filled with fear, embracing broken hearts and listening to young adults question why they are hated has left me at a loss. I love my country. I love the American spirit that drives our democracy, which I unequivocally believe in. I love that we are a nation of immigrants built on values of liberty and justice for all. I am proud of my students, who in their pain have not uttered a single hateful word as they process their new reality.
They have too many questions that I cannot answer. Questions of safety and racism. Questions of whether or not they can pursue dreams of attending college. Questions of what happens if…
What if we don’t have a home to go back to?
What if there are no jobs where we are from?
What if our lives are in danger if we go back?
What if my family is separated?
The what ifs are dangerously endless. So we talk about systems of checks and balances. We talk about hope. We talk about doing good. We focus on what we are thankful for. Supportive adults provide safe spaces for hurt voices to be heard and valued. Outside resources are provided to support those who are overcome with fear. And I pray. Something that any Christian can do for those in pain, regardless of political beliefs.
Words have power. Even if we believe or hope that words will not turn into actions, words have still created a chasm between those who feel safe and those who do not. Even if we have different points of view, it is still important to see those who are hurting and to acknowledge their grief. The dust will settle and we will all carry on with the daily task of living. Within the four walls of my classroom, I am witnessing broken, tender hearts carry on with hopefulness and resilience. It is how we choose to carry on that makes a difference.