He teaches in another town, one that has a reputation for crime, gang activity and families living in difficult and dysfunctional situations. In his class are many students who are especially low-achieving and have been dealt a pretty raw deal in life. One of his students had seen her father shot earlier this year.
He and I were discussing teaching as we walked, and in the middle of telling me about how he is approaching effective note-taking, he shared that he had been overcome today by a need to go deeper with his students as a group.
In the middle of class today he suddenly said, "Whatever you're doing right now, put it down. This is serious. I'm gonna go deep with you. I need your full attention up here. Do any of you play cards? Do any of you play domninoes?" When he got many "yes" responses, he asked, "What do you do when you get a really bad hand?"
The students were very honest with him. Some of the responses were:
"I give up."
"I get angry."
He created a "web" on the board of the responses.
Then he looked at them and said:
"What do you do when you've been dealt a bad hand in life?"
Everyone got quiet.
He continued: "I know some of you wish you had a Dad. Others of you wish your mom and dad were together again. I know the situations many of you are in. I know what it is to have a hard life. One time my mom had no money and the cupboards were nearly bare. When she asked us what we wanted to eat, we said, 'Pancakes.' She didn't have any pancake mix, but she looked at what little was in the cupboard, and she made us pancakes out of whatever she could find, and you know what? They were the best pancakes we'd ever had."
Some of his students commented that maybe she had just been a really good cook. He responded that he didn't know about that, but that wasn't the point. She had looked in the cupboard, and, instead of looking at what wasn't there she figured out how to use what was there.
He then shifted the discussion back to games. He said, "You've given some comments about what you do when you get a bad hand at cards or dominoes. I play a lot of dominoes. If I get a bad hand, what I do is I start looking around. I look at what's out there. Instead of thinking of what I don't have, I look at what I do have and how it hooks in and how it can work together - that this connects here and then that will connect there and so on, and pretty soon I know how to play the hand, and I play the best I can."
He told me that by this time some of his students had begun crying and he began crying too. That must have been quite a sight because he is QUITE an imposing male presence (and I'm sure serves as a father figure to many of them).
He didn't share this to impress me. He shared this because his heart was overflowing after this had happened in his classroom today.
I know he's overloaded with work right now. Due to student population he was moved from 4th grade to 6th grade this year - all new curriculum to teach - VERY time consuming to prepare! He is going to school himself, working on a graduate degree at a campus more than an hour's commute from where he lives. He is concerned about teaching well, and he is concerned about his students' hearts.
He has no idea I have a blog nor that I am writing this, but I nominate sixth-grade teacher Eric C., a big man with a big heart, as a hero because in the midst of his own very busy life he is aware of other lives that need to be touched, and he reaches out and touches them. I can only imagine how different the lives of some of these students may turn out - differently than they could have turned out given their environment - because of his impact, care, and inspiration.
Kudos to you Eric!