Yesterday we sat on metal folding chairs inside one of our student's homes. The children bounced between beds, giggling with glee that teachers were there, in their home. The mother sat on the smallest bed, closest to the chairs, where she could ask us questions through an interpreter about her concerns for her child in kindergarten.
The room we sat in was full of love, with the children's photographs on the wall along with religious icons. It was spotless, toys stored neatly under the bed, teddy bears waited on a shelf to be hugged, and table tops were clear of clutter. Important school notices were pinned to the wall right by the door, including the note reminding them of our conference. The family even offered us bottled water as we chatted about important kindergarten conference details. (It's incredible all we try to cover in a kindergarten conference- we're introducing parents to the entire public education system, setting the tone for their next 13 years, while covering curriculum, behavior, and the importance of potty training/teaching your child to feed themselves/creating independence.)
The conference was wonderful and when we were done the mother followed us out the door of the room they rented, through the dark, dirty common space they shared with another family, and to the door to the outside.
And now we know.
We know why our friend is wide-eyed when shown new manipulatives, we've seen how little he has. We understand his energy level, his need for his own space, his tiredness, and how overwhelmed he's been these first 9 weeks of kindergarten. Adjusting to life outside of the four walls of your small, secluded room you share with your entire family is difficult. Especially if inside your room you only speak one language, and in school you spend 7 hours listening to another.
All night I thought about that room. Inside was love, cleanliness, order, and life. Yet, it was one room, four walls.
This was not the first child we visited who shared an apartment. In fact, in most of our visits we see many other people coming and going from the houses. Many times our children do not know the names of the people who live with them. Once, we arrived at an apartment and asked the two teenagers who opened the door if our student and her mother were there. They had no idea who we were talking about and had to go into a back bedroom to find out the names of the girls they shared an apartment with. These visits always stay with me, yet something about sitting in a close circle on the folding chairs in a back room is haunting me this week. There's so much potential for the family. So much hope that can come from the people inside that room.
We have 10 months. If we can teach the children to read, write, count, add, and subtract, speak English, share, take turns, get along with others, set goals and work to meet them, plan ahead, follow directions, and show delayed gratification we'll be setting them out on the right track. And now, we teach our hearts out.