Not the ones I own.
Not the ones I want to buy.
The shoes that other people wear.
Namely the kids I teach.
We get caught up in the game of school. The learning of academic subjects and all the “what education is supposed to be” sort of stuff.
But today was different.
Today was about humans.
About compassion. Empathy. Respect. Civility. Listening.
No…I mean really listening.
You see…among this group of middle school kids who are supposed to be learning about rocks and circles and government and grammar and holy moly so much more…are people.
These kids have stories. Stories that some of you can’t even imagine.
And while I know none of us are perfect…and most of us have our own traumatic experiences, we don’t know anything about the shoes these kids are walking in.
The kid whose classmates make fun of his religion and joke that he’s a terrorist.
The kid who’s homeless and knows he’s fighting an uphill battle against future drug and alcohol addiction.
The kid who’s feelings are hurt when someone says “that’s gay” because that is a negative reference to how she identifies.
The kid who struggles with depression and has contemplated suicide.
The kid who’s father is in prison and doesn’t know when he might see him again.
The kid with a disability and who struggles to fit in.
These are stories that were shared today.
Actually just a few of them.
Some of the kids in the room are guilty of cracking jokes and making insensitive comments. Not because they are mean. Mostly because getting laughs in middle school is of utmost priority and we don’t stop to think about how we might make others feel. What might be hilarious in our home or with our friends, might not be so hilarious in a different environment or to a different group of people.
All these kids are human. They want what we all want. Friendship. To belong. To be loved.
Yet instead some worry about their next meal, where they will lay their head, if they will be tormented that day…
Today was difficult. My heart is heavy.
But I’m so glad we took the time to let kids share what civility, respect and empathy meant to them.
And to share their stories.
This is public education. They all deserve a safe place to learn regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion, socioeconomic status or any other thing that makes us different from one another.
But that conversation needs to be continued at home. Especially in light of what they see and hear in the media and what has become acceptable in adults all around us.
So whatever shoes you walk in, take heed of this message…
We don’t know what other people face. We don’t know their whole story or their struggles.
Be the reason someone smiles today.
Or better yet…
Be the reason someone smiles EVERYDAY.
Wear your shoes proudly. But don’t forget all shoes fit differently and it’s not our job to make them fit the same.