On Forgetting to Hope

Monday, December 23rd, 2013 – the first official day of winter break. I’m still in my PJs, and I have no intention of putting on business casual anything. I don’t need to form coherent sentences today, nor do I need to repeat the difference between definite and indefinite articles for the umpteenth time. I could, in all reality, try to pretend that I’m not a teacher for a whole two weeks. I didn’t even bring any marking home.

But pretending that I’m not a teacher would be a disservice to the students I teach. Because they’re pretty amazing people, and I want to tell you about them.

On Friday afternoon, we had an optional holiday assembly. Well, it was optional for students – they could either leave the building or join the festivities in the gym – but mandatory for teachers. We needed to supervise. To provide the teacher stares from across bleachers that act like an icy face wash on holiday hijinx. And I was pretty sure that I knew why.

First on the schedule of student performances was a dance number. I settled myself on the bleachers, within sight of some of my own students, who would be more likely to take my glares and sharp shakes of the head seriously. Then, I put on my no-nonsense face, which is my best impersonation of a stereotypically strict, hated teacher. I was ready to memorize the students who didn’t heed my looks of correction, to haul them to the admin right after the performance.

But I didn’t have to. From the moment the BASES dance team was introduced, the crowd was nothing but supportive. They clapped. They cheered. And they meant it. There wasn’t a sarcastic cheer to be heard as the students with intellectual disabilities – students who are on modified programs and are rarely in the same classes as the teens sitting in the bleachers – proudly followed their dance teacher’s lead and opened the assembly with their dance routine.

And I got choked up. The dancer’s smiles betrayed their pride and excitement to be performing in front of the school, but it was the audience’s encouragement and support that did me in.

Teens can be so unpredictable, and sometimes we have a tendency to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I was prepared for the worst behavior at the start of this assembly, and I was rocked by what I saw instead. Maybe it was because of the epic battle I’d waged in class all week, reminders of respectful behavior seemingly needing to be worked into every third sentence, but I’d forgotten to hope for the best on Friday.

The students didn’t need my hope, though. They are the best. And they showed it.

Yes, this was an optional assembly. Most of the trouble makers or apathetic students had left for the day, but what we were left with were three-hundred or so students from grades 8-12, sitting together, supporting their peers, showing what awesome human beings they are. And they deserve a shout-out for reminding me that there’s always good to be found, even when you forget to hope for it.