The first few weeks as a teacher’s aide at a Catholic elementary school were both exciting and overwhelming at the same time. Aside from learning new prayers, helping prep lesson plans for the day, and being responsible for 36 first-graders, I was also getting used to living in a new environment away from my hometown of Cutler-Orosi in the Central Valley. However, what helped me get through the difficult transition of living a little over two hundred miles away from home was the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed getting the opportunity to get to know each of my students and their personalities.
Some students were introverted and to themselves, yet extremely intelligent. Others were rambunctious and mischievous, yet extremely compassionate and caring towards their fellow classmates. The rest, of course, fell somewhere in between. All of this created a perfect storm of chaos inside and outside of the classroom. Name-calling led to a discussion about the dangers of bullying. Skinned knees on the playground emptied a whole box of band-aids. Excessive talking in church led to a bunch of shushing and a lecture on respect. However, I could have never been prepared for what occurred during my third week into the school year.
One of our students missed an unusual amount of days at school, which brought up some concern. After a while, the father of the student explained to us that his son fell down in the middle of night and could no longer feel the left side of his body– he had a malignant brain tumor.
My heart sank. I couldn’t believe that this poor child had something in his head that was literally killing him. His friends began to notice, too. During a breast cancer awareness fundraiser, one of the students asked, “If we donate money, then do the people we love that are sick get to stay alive?” During recess, students would say, “We wanna play Pokemon, but the only person that knows how to play it right is not here!” It was tough keeping my emotions in check and having a straight face in class when the topic came up, but just like any difficult time in life, the most important lesson that I’ve taken away from this current situation is to cherish every moment and to shift my perspective from, “Man, I’m tired. Today sucks,” to “Man, I’m tired. At least I spent my time and energy with some amazing kids today.”
As for the student with the illness, we’ve done some fun things to keep him engaged with the class whenever he gets the chance to visit with us. We had a Pokemon themed party with plenty of gifts and activities that gave him a smile brighter than the flame at the end of Charmander’s tail. He led prayers as the prayer-leader for the week despite feeling weak half the time. He watches his friends play on the playground, plays a bit of four-square, and engages in some light-hearted back and forth with me while we wait for the bell to ring.
Despite all of the adversity that this young man and his family are going through, I’ve learned how important it is to continue living life to its fullest just as he is continuing to do, day-in-and-day-out. As for care, I have taken the time to find something great about each day and something that I can look forward to in the future.
If he can fight his illness despite the chaos and adversity surrounding him, I know for a fact that as a teacher, I can pass on his message of perseverance and fortitude to this class and future students to come.