Yesterday, I did what has become an annual day of service for our local elementary school. In partnership with Elliott's school and a national program called Watch D.O.G.S., I got to spend an entire school day joining in several classroom lessons and monitoring various activities at Henry Clay Elementary. At the end of the day, it felt like someone had done more service for me than I could ever dream of doing for someone else.
The greatest moment of all, much like last year, was walking into my son's classroom first thing in the morning and in front of all his friends receiving a loving hug. Rumor has it those days don't last forever. Yesterday I found myself praying that's exactly what that is: a vicious rumor.
Last year the hug was the greatest moment without competition. But yesterday, it wasn't so easy to make that declaration. While doing my 2 hours of lunchroom monitoring, a young man I didn't know called me over. When I got to him he said, "I recognize you from the movies."
I said, "You recognize me from where?"
He said, "The movies. I've seen you in the movies."
I didn't ask him what movies, but it was pretty clear I had just been mistaken for George Clooney. Or Richard Gere, possibly. I'm not sure who he thought I was, really, but who I was at the moment was the Mastiff watchdog parading through the lunchroom with an oversized head.
There is no more enjoyable way to see the world than through two hours of conversations with 4 to 8 year old children. They are magical. They don't spend a single second figuring out what they're supposed to say to you before they say it. That makes for some awkward moments, sure, but there's something refreshing about being in the unquestionable land of authenticity.
Spending a day at Henry Clay reminds me once again how upside down the world we live in can be. We gladly make millionaires out of folks who build and sell us oversized houses and cars, computers and televisions, steak dinners and super-sized drinks, and oh, don't let me leave out the new kid on the block - marijuana. Colorado recently voted to legalize marijuana, opening the door to hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for both the state and pot entrepreneurs alike, on a drug our federal government says is illegal. Yet in the same election Coloradans failed to pass an income tax increase to support the state's education system. I'm not really picking on Colorado. That same climate exists in many states. We continue to deprive our teachers, who are building some incredibly cool kids, and I'm talking about more than just the ones who think I'm a movie star, from making a wage that says we value the influence they have on our kids and the future of our country.
I watched the kids in my son's class get swept away in his teacher's love of the Winter Olympics. Ms. Hoggan had them willingly building as many different words as they could out of the letters in snowboarding. "We've got 10", one pair of students said. "We've got 15", I heard. Then came 30. These kids were bragging about spelling. Creating words. I witnessed a miracle.
I watched an art teacher help kids spill water on designs they'd made with markers so the ink in the shapes would run to different parts of the page. Kids were amazed. Talk about magic markers. They were making cards they could take to their parents or someone they love for Valentine's Day. The teacher's efforts were clearly driven by love. A love of art, and a love for seeing it grow inside her students.
I watched a principal come back from a long morning of meetings and within five minutes she was walking hand and in hand with a young student down the hallway. Both were smiling. The principal was clearly much more at home next to that student than in a stuffy conference room, likely listening to someone else's idea of educating - standardized testing, common core state standards, higher class ratios - that have nothing to do with a child's hand. My words, by the way, not hers.
In the end, I left Henry Clay so lifted by the love and commitment I see coming from the adults charged with inspiring and growing our kids. Unfortunately, though, I couldn't help but see it against the backdrop of a society that seems more and more intent on limiting the flexibility and resources those adults need to do what they do best. Teach.