Last night, my family went to see the movie Wonder. I hoped my two, young sons would watch the movie and leave with a renewed understanding of what it means to be kind, but I wasn’t prepared for the lesson it had for me.
It is November. The season of darkness and paperwork. By November, teachers are run down. The September honeymoon has worn off, and students, co-workers, administrators and parents are all showing their true colors.
Feeling constantly behind and exhausted, we are trying to remember why we ever wanted to do this job in the first place. We feel defeated and discouraged. We know it is far too early in the year to feel this overwhelmed, and we wonder if we even have what it takes.
Wonder is the story of Auggie Pullman, a 5th grade boy with Treacher Collins Syndrome, a condition that can cause extreme facial difference. Auggie’s disability is obvious. It is a constant reminder of the struggles he faces.
I don’t work with children who have physical disabilities. I teach students who look just like everyone else. Some have hidden disabilities in their learning or emotions, others are highly intelligent.
My students’ appearance reveals nothing of their inner challenges, and without that physical reminder, sometimes I forget.
I forget that some of my students go home alone with no one to ask them about their day. I forget that some of my students put themselves to bed at night, or wake themselves up on a cold November morning.
I forget no one helps them pick out their clothes or makes sure they are clean. No one reminds them to brush their teeth or wear a jacket. I forget they only eat at school.
I forget that some parents work all night. When I’m frustrated my calls aren’t returned or my meetings aren’t attended, I forget how many parents are just trying to get by. Working multiple jobs or buried so deep in their own issues and dysfunctions, I forget some parents just are thankful their child is safe at school.
Other parents care too much. They can’t imagine anyone else doing their job. I forget that every day I am in a room filled with others' most precious possessions.
I forget how hard school is. I forget how much it hurts to lose a friend and the deep stomach crushing pain of watching friends choose others over you. I forget the debilitating self-consciousness and fear of not fitting in. I forget how hard it is to concentrate on the teacher, when your mind is consumed with worry.
I forget that students, co-workers and administrators who may look “normal” might have secrets we know nothing about. Even the happiest appearing families have struggles and secrets. Some students smile just to hide their pain.
This season, while I’m drowning in paperwork, lesson plans, progress reports and reports cards, I forgot that each student is a wonder.
I am surrounded by wonders. Even my toughest students have a story and a life that brought them to me.
We have the opportunity to remind every student they are a wonder. We can help them see their life beyond their current assignment, beyond their current grade and beyond their current struggle. We can remind them that friends will come and go. We can show them what it’s like to see others as wonders.
In order to do this, we have to give ourselves a break. We have to remember that we too, are wonders. Wonder doesn’t leave anyone out.
I’m grateful for the reminder of Wonder. Our jobs are tough. Our work is endless and consuming. It’s hard to experience wonder when we feel like we are drowning, but maybe that’s the point.
Wonder isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice.