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Truth, Justice, and the American Way

Superman[Editor’s note: Mr. Foteah is a third-year teacher in an elementary school in Queens. He blogs at From the Desk of Mr. Foteah, where this post originally appeared.]

I allow my students to bring small toys to school. The toys help keep them out of trouble at lunch with necessary imaginative diversions that they don’t get in school otherwise. They also lend a sense of security to the students, knowing they’ve got something genuinely their own in school with them.

The other day, one of my students picked up one of the toys off the floor. It apparently never got back into Donald’s bag after lunch, and he had left. She held up a small Superman figure and told me it belonged to Donald. I asked her to leave it on my desk and told her I’d return it to him. This was last week.

Today, I was doing a little desk straightening, and my eyes fell upon Superman, arms stretched toward the sky, plastic cape frozen in a flap behind his chiseled shoulders. I picked up the little toy, balanced it on a couple of things on my desk trying to get him to stand. I couldn’t do it, so finally, I propped him on a pencil holder. Superman tipped forward toward his prone flying position, and I said to myself, “Somehow, that works.”

I left him there when I left school this afternoon, and now as I reflect, I see that little action figure as a much more powerful symbol than just Donald’s toy. I think about how much Donald has changed this year. Today, I caught and admonished him for running up the stairs when he was with his partner and he looked me in the eye the entire time, showing no defiance at all, but accepting my disfavor as a consequence of his choice. Previously, he’d have come into the room and climbed under his desk. This time, he came in and went right to work. And it makes me wonder, for all those people who are so busy waiting for Superman — did you ever think to check your student’s backpacks or your teacher’s desks?

It’s my students who buoy me when the kryptonite of cynicism and anti-teacher sentiment threatens to unravel me. They are my Supermen (and Wonder Women). In some ways, I think I am their Superman, too. I don’t erase all the ills in their lives, but I make things a little better and I push them to leap tall buildings in a single bound (while others think they can’t even leap a molehill).

I still haven’t returned Superman to Donald, and to be honest, I might not. I think I’ll ask him tomorrow if I can keep it. It will be a potent reminder to keep fighting for truth, justice, and the American way — in other words, to continue to do what’s best for my students.

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