[Editor's note: Kindergarten Correspondent is a third-year teacher in an elementary school in Brooklyn.]
Alex was a crier. From the very first day, he cried. Not just a few tears, sad-to-leave-his-mommy crying, but tear-soaked T-shirts, hold-him-tight-while-his-mom-ran-out-the-door crying. Every morning for the first three weeks of school, he cried. He cried for about 15 minutes by the door. Then he would slowly stop and make his way over to a chair near the carpet. Eventually, he joined us and was good to go. By noon, you wouldn’t be able to pick him out of the crowd. He thoroughly enjoyed himself all day long.
Still only four, he was the smallest boy in the class. When he smiled, his face lit up so much, you only half-noticed the decaying top front teeth. Every time you saw them, it reminded you that his home life was probably not very comfortable. But he loved his momma. One day when he saw her coming down the street he said, “There’s my mommy! Isn’t she beautiful?” That might have been the same day he announced to the class that his daddy was in jail for shooting someone. If you thought about it long enough, you might wonder how he stopped crying at all.
But he did – except when it was time to go to the specialty classes. He had gotten used to me, but he wasn’t quite sure about the other teachers yet. And at this school, I couldn’t blame him. So when the day came when the class was going to music, I said goodbye to my darling children. But Alex began to cry. I felt bad but at the same time I needed my prep. I talked with him, giving him every good logical reason why he should stay. He continued to cry. I looked at him and I looked at Ms. Ryan and her crazy wig and decided he could stay with me. He grabbed my hand tightly as we walked back down to our classroom.
His crying slowly turned to a whimper that eventually stopped. We walked into the room and I explained his choices. Drawing or reading. I did have work to do. We both got to work. Not even 10 minutes later, Ms. Smith, the principal, entered the classroom. Immediately on the defense (you had to be), I explained why Alex was in the classroom. I told her how he was a little scared to go to Music so he was going to work here until he was ready. With a big phony smile, she began to address Alex. “Ohhhh, that’s okayyy. We are all scared sometimes. But we need to be brave. Soon you will have the courage to go to Music,” she said and then proceeded on to the next classroom.
As she walked away, Alex looked at me, with old tears still drying up on his face and asked, “What’s courage?” I thought of the best answer for his question. “Courage is when you are brave enough to do something that you are scared to do,” I explained hoping it was clear enough. He listened carefully, and thought it over. Then his little voice asked a question that I will never forget. “Are you gonna give that to me today?” I paused. I smiled. I giggled just a little bit. I could not believe his innocence, his curiosity and his hope that perhaps I could give him courage today. It was priceless. It was heart-warming that this sweet little boy from an under-privileged home could be so hopeful.
I went on to explain that courage was not something that I could simply give him. It was a feeling he would feel on the inside when he was ready. But I was there to help him find it. “Oh, okay,” was his response, along with a smile and he went back to drawing. It was just another moment in his day. He probably didn’t remember it by nightfall.
He eventually found courage and his tears were fewer and fewer. But ever since that day, whenever I read the word courage, hear the word courage or even look inside myself for some of my own courage, I see Alex and think of him and his hope for a day without tears and a heart full of courage.