The Kindest Act I’ve Witnessed at School
When we think of elementary school employees, we picture teachers. And when we think of the population a school serves, we think of students.
In addition to teachers though, elementary schools employ many individuals who are, technically speaking, not educators: cafeteria workers, custodians, secretaries, security guards.
Where I work, teachers are really kind to students. (I hope, of course, that such is the case in all schools.) But that’s something to be expected, don’t you think? The opposite -unkind and cruel teachers, that is- would be reprehensible, a travesty really.
This story’s hero is not a teacher however. He comes from the other employee group, the “non-educator” group. The object of his kindness was one of my young students.
I’ve been an early childhood special education teacher for fifteen years. Last year, I had a student (whom I’ll call Steve) who presented some significant physical challenges. He got around the school in a wagon and often had difficulty holding down food. He was bright and communicative, but, above all, Steve had a smile that made you believe that everything in the universe was perfect and beautiful.
One day, during an occupational therapy session, Steve vomited in his wagon. Bruno (not his real name), a custodian at my school, happened to be walking by. Bruno took matters into his own hands. He first power-washed the wagon, and then went to the nurse’s office to check in on Steve.
He inquired about him, not just about the vomiting, but also about what Steve liked. Dinosaurs, Bruno learned. He also found out that the therapist had modified an old tricycle for Steve to use at school.
Well, not a week had passed when Bruno showed up in school with: a tricycle that his children had outgrown and that was in much better shape than the one we had; a dinosaur coloring book; dinosaur stickers; and a card. The card was remarkable. Bruno had made it himself, with the letters S-T-E-V-E formed in ink, in the graffiti style you might see on the back of a skateboard. The message inside read something along these lines:
Dear Steve, I hope you are feeling better. You have a wonderful smile. Your friend, Bruno.
I don’t mean to suggest with this story that a custodian is less likely to be kind than a teacher. What’s humbling to me is that Bruno’s act highlighted how wrong our expectations can be. His job description and performance have nothing to do with his interactions with students. A teacher’s job, by contrast, is -directly- all about the children.
I’ve been around long enough to know that generosity doesn’t necessarily come from those who have more or from those who are expected to do more. Still, it’s wonderful to be reminded of it.