This morning I came into my classroom, made tea, and sat down with a senior to help her with her thesis topic. The chairs were up on tables for the floor to be cleaned the night before, so we just took two down, because that was all we needed.
Part-way through our meeting, a sophomore boy who’s in the elective that meets first hour in my room came in to leave his things there. I said hello, and went back to my conversation. Five or ten minutes later, when the senior girl left, armed (I hope) with revision ideas, I looked up and saw that all the chairs were down. “Did you do that?” I asked him. He shrugged and said yes. I thanked him and he disappeared back out into the hall.
Not only do they clean the floors on Monday, but on Tuesday night as well. Usually I try to remember to ask the kids in my last hour to put them up, but they were very invested in the review game we were playing today, so I let class run right up to the bell, and by the time I remembered about the chairs, the room had cleared out. I began to put them up alone, one by one, silently berating myself for not asking for help when I had it available to me.
Then I looked up to see that two of my juniors were still left packing their things, and two more who I didn’t even have today had wandered in for unknown reasons. Without my requesting help, or the kids even asking if I needed it, they all began to put chairs on tables, juggling their book-bags and binders. The job was done in ten seconds, and by the time I thanked them, they were all already out my door again. They didn’t acknowledge their own kindness.
This is a very small thing, smaller than small, but I haven’t really stopped thinking about it since. I was even distracted from grading freshman papers tonight because I was remembering.
I think there are two reasons that it had such weight for me. First, I am tired, and I have had a hard week or two. Kindness means most when you need it most.
But more than that, help was offered to me so freely, without expectation of anything in return, not even gratitude or recognition. I love my students, and they are often sweet and pleasant, but this reflexive willingness to immediately and unassumingly fill whatever inauspicious need is placed in front of them–this is rare, both among teenagers and among people in general. To see such a virtue active and growing in them moves me more than they can know. When my students are able to step out into the world as that kind of salt and light, they’ll certainly have far surpassed everything I have to teach them, regardless of what they know about comma placement or the cotton gin.
God is good.