I was a wreck that first day. A total disaster. Unprepared in every way. And when it was done, I wondered how I would ever survive the year. I had a classroom full of leftovers with moms that were my age and dads that weren’t around. Kids with reputations that followed them and heartache and need that was written all over their faces. Our relationship was volatile and more than once I cried in front of them, but every day changed me a little and before it was over I was wrapped up in them.
We lived in the Trailer Trash Castle, a mobile classroom behind the school, and I was voted The Queen, but the truth is they were the royalty there. They were hysterical and full of personality and they were creative and emotional and I adored them. We read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe together and I watched in awe as they sat enamored by the story come to life on the big screen. I taught them to waltz and my heart went to putty when James asked me to dance as every child in the school looked on. Their heads bobbed and swayed to the sound of The Drifters in the afternoons and their sweaty hands found their way around my waist after every recess. Their words were simple and innocent and are forever with me and they are the class to which I compare all others.
“Miss Witt, it feels like a fluffy cloud when I hug you.” Sweet Kim. “How do you spell apponna? You know like once apponna time?” Jacob. “I’m praying for your husband, Miss Witt.” Tyler. “Miss Witt, you look guuud in dem heels!” Jasmine. “If the world was upside down, would all the water fall out?” Oh, Stephen. “You must really love me, Miss Witt. You named your dog Fuller.” And it was true. I loved Rashad Fuller. And I loved Warren and Noah’s sweet spirit helped me through every day. And Adam’s tears helped me understand how desperately he wanted to please me. But James was my favorite. He was my heart. He left me diet cokes in my refrigerator and tootsie rolls in my chair and he hid under my desk when his temper caused him shame. And that kid, to this day, is the reason I teach. To show love to the unlovable and to hold the broken. To give the hopeless a chance to rise up and to beg the needy to stand on their own. To encourage the weak and to be the mother to those without. To heal. To lead. To swell with pride at small victories and to be broken by hurts that I cannot carry.
About the Author
Emily Witt, a former student and preservice teacher of Clif’s, graduated from the University of Mississippi with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She spent two years teaching in the Mississippi public school system before moving a little further south. She is currently teaching third graders in the heart of the Colombian coffee region, learning Spanish as she goes, and wondering if it might really be possible to change the world.