In the spring of 2009, I headed into the city of Philadelphia for an immersive 2-week student teaching internship.

My assignment was a third grade classroom. I was nervous, but quickly relaxed when I met the classroom teacher, a veteran of over 20 years in the classroom.

Throughout my two weeks in that school, I stepped into my first experience as a “real” teacher… and loved it.

But, I was woefully unprepared for discovering that the main part of my job would be developing a deep understanding of who my students were as PEOPLE.

I’ll never forget one day when a little boy needed to go to the bathroom. We were 5-10 minutes away from going on a break so I quietly asked him to wait a few minutes then we would go as a group.

Instantly, he dissolved into a huge meltdown. I stood dumbfounded, with no idea how to calm this boy and remain in charge of the remainder of the class.

Finally, he settled and we moved on with our day. After school, my mentoring teacher pulled me aside. She asked if I had any idea what happened with that little boy earlier in the day.

Nope. No clue.

She told me that this precious little boy lived with his mom and little kindergartener sister. Dad wasn’t in the picture, so to make ends meet, mom needed to do what she had to do.

Each night, mom would head to the street corners… to make the money she needed to feed, clothe, and shelter her babies.

That meant, every night, this little guy got his sister home from school, together. He made them dinner, did his own homework, helped with house chores, and then got his sister to bed.

In the mornings, he woke up, got them both ready for school and onto the bus. He was, for every intent and purpose, a grown man at the tender age of 9.

So, naturally, when this grown little man is told to wait to use the bathroom in school, he didn’t know how to handle that. And, how could he?

School became the only stability he knew. His teacher, his classmates… they truly were like a family.

My guess is that he was far from the only child who experienced this.

I’m sure many, many other teachers witnessed stories similar to that sweet little boy.

And, sad as it seems, most people do not understand the depth that education affords some of these children.

No, it shouldn’t “be this way.” But, it is reality.

And, this reality is what drives me to remain in education.

Each child deserves an education where they are seen as people. As humans. People with backgrounds, stories, hardships, learning needs… they must be seen as whole people.

Educators have the power to see these children as whole people. Educators truly do hold the keys to the future.

And, that is why, I will always be an educator.

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