It all started out in typical Friday fashion. I was determined to have my ever growing to-do list chopped down by the end of the day. As a million thoughts rushed through my head, I hurried quickly back to my office to peck out some response emails, review a bus video, and set the plans for a future PLC, I was handed a small pink sticky note with a name and a number written on it. I was told that a lady had called and asked for an administrator to call her back; no other details were given. I grumbled under my breath as I walked the final few paces to my office, plopped down in my chair, and stuck the note on my desk. I resisted the urge to trudge through my to-do list, lifted the phone, dialed the number, and began to listen to the caller on the other end of the line.
The voice on the other end was gentle, yet it was easy to distinguish that hint of brokenheartedness that is felt rather than heard. The lady kindly introduced herself and, without knowing how to cordially lead us in, quickly plunged into the issue at hand. The lady on the phone was a concerned grandmother that was worried about her granddaughter. She began her story with a little background information about her little girl. She talked about how her girl had always loved school and seemed to really enjoy learning. She talked about how much she loved her and how she was her life. Her next word ate at my core. It's not that the word itself is bad. Granted it shows contrast, yet it usually goes unnoticed in conversations. Not this time. Not in this conversation. When this grandmother muttered the word "but," everything changed. Right after she said it, she had to apologize because she had begun to cry. She didn't have to tell me that she was crying, I could hear it in the trembling of her voice. I could feel the heavy heart from her words and occasional sobs. She illustrated for me a story of a little girl that has been constantly picked on for something that she can't even help. For a very common skin condition. She told me that her granddaughter had become the "cheese" of the infamous "cheese-touch" from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. She sobbed to me that her granddaughter who once loved school, who once couldn't wait to get to bed so she could wake up the next day, had to be pried out of the car on this typical Friday. That same girl who hung on the words that were spoken in class by her teachers and peers, cried herself to sleep at night because of the punch line she had become. As she talked, my head hung low, but not lower than my heart.
I concluded the phone call in a typical administrator fashion, but my heart hurt. There are times that you go through the motions; you follow policy, procedure, and protocol. You don't think, you just act. Then there are times that you're human. You feel, you hurt, you hope. After that call, I was human, humiliatingly human.
After hanging up the phone, I took a minute to get my thoughts together then called the little girl into my office. Other than the, "I don't think I did anything to get called to the office" look she gave me when she turned the corner in my office, her attitude was not what I was expecting. The little girl I locked eyes with was surprisingly chipper for someone who had to be dragged out of the car previously that morning. She merrily talked about her morning and how she liked her substitute, but misses her teacher when she's gone. After the formalities of introduction subsided, I asked her about some of the things her grandmother informed me about. She told an identical tale of being picked on since 1st grade. She told me the whys and hows and whats. Enraged at this point, I asked for the whos. Who in God's Holy name could be bullying such a sweet child...I thought to myself. I was going to deal with that bully or few bullies. I anxiously anticipated her answer, but was humbled by her response. This sweet little girl, with pain in her eyes, gazed at me and said, "Mr. Richards, it feels like half of the entire grade picks on me." I didn't think my heart could drop much lower than when I was on the phone with the grandmother, but believe you me, it did. I am known to be able to throw out a pretty good poker face. Very few things shake me, but there is no way that that little girl couldn't see the hurt in her eyes mirrored in mine. However, what happened next was the most amazing thing. Without even thinking, possibly in the same breath, she used that word...that same word that changed everything in the conversation with her grandmother. That same word that will again...change everything..."but!" "But Mr. Richards," the look in her eyes returning to the sparkle she displayed at the outset of our meeting, "there are some students in my class that never pick on me." "They've even stood up for me." She went on and on about the times they've helped her and how they make her happy and not sad like the other kids.
As she talked I zoned out. This was too much for me to process. Here is a girl who has been bullied for years, and all she can really talk about is the people that have come by her side. I asked for the students names and called them to my office. When the group arrived, I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting the students that showed up. I'm not sure if the ingrained Hollywood image of heroes and heroines just has me messed up, but this was the rag-taggiest group of kids ever. Honestly, and this is sad for me to say, I'm not sure if I had ever even seen a few of the kids before that fateful Friday morning. I asked them all to sit down and gently shut my door. The lone boy in the room joyfully asked, "are we in trouble?!" I honestly didn't know how to respond. I sat down in my desk chair and stared face to face with six children. Six snaggle-toothed, pig-tail braided, breakfast stained shirt, crumb wearing kids...and I never felt more humbled. Here were six children, all under the age of 10, and five of them were heroes to one little girl. I am never at a loss for words, but I was then. I simply said, "thank you." After being asked why, I went into further details. I'm not sure what all I said to them, but I hope my heart came out as I said thank you.
They later left my office with smiles and headed back to class. I called each of their parents and thanked them for having them at Wood Elementary. Each parent was grateful for the call, but none more grateful than I was for having the opportunity to make the call. On that Friday morning, I sat face-to-face with five heroes. Five students that were willing to go against the grain. Five unassuming students that have made a huge mark on one child's life, and one administrators life, simply because they were willing to do what was right. That Friday morning, those kids taught me...