We all know about the proverbial “drop that made the bucket overflow.” My husband sees this as a negative – who wants their bucket to overflow? – but I think I confused it with the biblical “my cup runneth over” so I have long seen it as a positive – who doesn’t want a full bucket? For me, when someone’s bucket overflows, they are full and they are ready for the next step. What next step? No idea – I’m the one mixing metaphors here. Maybe they’re ready for a bigger bucket? Hmm… Either way, when I’m working with students, if I’m really lucky, there comes a moment when everything clicks and their bucket finally overflows, everything is suddenly different, even if the difference is small in the grand scheme of things. I’ve been privileged to experience some of those moments in my career, and those memories, those little floods will sustain me for a long time. I know that there are children for whom I have made a difference.
But here’s the thing: it takes a lot of drops to fill a bucket before it can overflow, and sometimes we don’t count all those drops. The work can seem endless and daunting. Most days, teaching isn’t about the wonderful overflow; most days, teaching is about adding drops to the buckets with no guarantee that they will ever be full.
Let me be clear: I do not think my students are vessels into whom I pour learning. As I tell them, “Sorry guys, you have to work a lot harder than that.” Nor do I believe in the teacher as savior who swoops in, fills up the bucket and changes lives. It’s not that easy either. But that doesn’t let me off the hook: I am still responsible for putting drops of love and learning, confidence and questioning, into my students’ buckets. And I need to work especially hard to help fill the leaky ones.
So I fill them as best I can: I say thank you to the students; I comment on their writing; I listen to them; sometimes I bring brownies in just because; I encourage students to sing happy birthday to each other; we talk about things that happen in the world, things that are on their mind; I acknowledge that the work they are doing is hard, and I am overt about telling them that I think they can do it; we use the word “yet” a lot; I try to apologize when I need to and to admit what I don’t know; I call home when things go well; I follow students into the hallways when they leave, and I tell them they are not broken. They are not broken.
Last week, when I finally leaned down next to M, whose head has been on the desk for days, who has stopped taking off his jacket or his hat, who just gave up football to concentrate on school but who hasn’t been concentrating on school at all… last week, when I whispered, “I’m worried about you,” I was not under the impression that I was going to change anything, but I really wanted him to know that I see him and that I care. I am only his teacher and only one of four and only this semester. I don’t understand him (yet) or even always like him (yet). He turned his head away from me and grumbled, “I’m worried about YOU.” I laughed and said, “Fair enough.”
And let me tell you, nothing changed. But M’s bucket is leaking, and I’m going to fill it with as many drops as I can because somebody needs to. In fact, more than one somebody needs to. If we’re lucky, we’ll see a change before he graduates. But we may not. This is the second year I’ve worked with him, and I can’t say that things are looking up for him…yet. But they might. And they surely won’t if we decide he’s too hard to work with, too far behind, too defiant, too tired, too tough for us.
Me? I’m just going to keep adding drops to that leaky bucket of his because someday he’s going to be an adult, and his bucket needs filling. When the time comes, I hope his bucket is so full that he is ready to overflow. I hope his cup runneth over.
Slice of Life, Day 14, March 2018
Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for this wonderful month.