The Greatest Gifts

In the week before our winter holiday one of my students gave me this:

In case it’s hard to see, it is a small penguin ornament. I believe he made it when he was with the speech pathologist that day. This is a student who spends a significant portion of every day out of my classroom, in a special education classroom. He spends about two hours a day, max, with me. He’s also had some serious trauma in his short life.

I think it was an in-the-moment decision, not a plan, to give me the ornament. Regardless, it was exceptionally generous. He worked hard to create it and could have taken it home to share. Or given it to one of many other important people in his life. But he gave it to me. And that means so much to me.

As a teacher of young children I am often given gifts like this. Gifts that might seem, to the casual eye, to be small, insignificant. Gifts that are, in reality, absolutely beautiful and thoughtful and kind. I can point out many things in our home that came to me this way (to my husband’s chagrin, at times). Many of my students have very little in the way of material goods in their lives. That they choose to share with me is quite meaningful. It is an act of love for which I am honored.

On this particular day, when this little boy gave me the ornament, another boy was standing right there. We were in the hallway after lunch waiting for the chance to use the bathroom. This second boy is one I’ve known since kindergarten. He also has faced some astounding trauma in his life. He also spends quite a bit of his day in the same special education classroom.

He watched his friend give me the ornament and immediately pulled a dollar bill out of his pocket (I have no idea why he had it there). He handed it to me. I can’t remember what he said because I was so surprised. I tried to return the money to him, suggesting that he should take it home and give it to his mother (the person in his life about whom he speaks the most glowingly and with immense love). He would have none of it. He pushed the bill back to me. I took it because it was clearly important to him that I have it. I thanked him for it but I’m certain I did not fully convey my emotions.

I know I work hard for these students. I think about them all the time, try to figure out how to help them grow, consider their interests and what I can offer them to build on those. But there is no way I give them anywhere near what they give me.

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