What happens when you invest time in a child?

I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. I played school with my brother and sister on a regular basis in the basement of our home on weekends and just recently was reminded of our childhood teaching antics when my mother found an old incident report book we had kept with our hilarious “discipline actions”, many that required my naughty brother to be sent to the principal’s office.

Invest time in a child and it will pay off!

Before long, what started with old, yellowed library books, leftover notebooks with a few sheets of lined paper and broken pencils for play became a reality and I became a teacher in a preschool. From the get go, I was of course motivated to teach them core concepts but worked towards a greater purpose, motivated by the familiar quote by Forest Witcraft: “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove…but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child”. The truth of the matter is this:  I played school as a child, desired to teach as a young adult and am, in part, who I am today, because I was important in the life of a teacher.

When I was in Kindergarten, I was a broken little girl. My father, who would pass away that summer from ALS, was very ill and while my mother was doing her best to take care of all of us, I felt like my whole world was falling apart. I was that child that teachers dread. I remember kicking and screaming at drop off time, standing by the door with my arms crossed and balling by the window, afraid to let my mother out of my sight. There were days I refused to take my coat off. I didn’t want to play on the playground. I just wanted to go home. I was also tired. I didn’t sleep well and had bad dreams on a regular basis.

One day, my mother had called and was going to be late picking me up from school due to a situation that had come up with my dad at home. Upon hearing the news that I was going to have to stay late, I can still remember the sheer terror that gripped me inside. The pounding of my heart in my chest was deafening, almost more than I could bear. But what happened next had a lasting effect that I’ll never forget. My teacher looked at me with warm eyes, smiled a genuine smile, and let me color at her desk. I had never felt safer at school and from that moment forward, I flourished.

As I reflect back on that crucial moment almost thirty years later, it occurs to me that my teacher probably had tons of things on her mind and countless tasks still left to complete before she left for the day. I can now understand the complexity of being an adult and an educator and am aware now that she probably had lesson plans to do, art to clean up and dinner to prepare once she got home. She could have easily given me toys to play with on the carpet alone or ushered me off to the school office to wait but instead she invested her space, herself and her time in me.

I have never had the opportunity to thank her personally or share with her the power of her influence in my life and as educators you too may never hear those success stories, but you have the opportunity to create them every day. So I encourage you, the next time that child in your care is throwing a terrible tantrum or is filled with rage from fear, to seize the opportunity to understand and invest in them and remember the lifelong impact your work in their life can make, even by the simplest act of making time and room for them to color at your desk.