My school was ambushed today by a Random Act of Kindness. The city fire department got wind, last month, of a penny drive for Japan–started by one second grader, it spread throughout our school. For reasons I genuinely don’t want to understand, they decided that the best way to honor this child’s generosity was to show up in a fire truck and give us 85 playground balls.
The initial idea was that there would be an “emergency fire drill” at 2:00, and then once all the students were gathered on the playground, the fire truck would drive up and the firemen would toss out all the equipment for the kids to grab. Given the ratio between kids and equipment, I honestly could not believe that this was being proposed by public safety officers: anyone who’s seen what happens when you bounce one ball at three children would not want to be there for 87 separate simultaneous instances of that. We talked them down to a small-scale riot, with each class contributing 7 kids, rather than all kids, to a scaled-off melee.
At 1:45, I began my rounds. First, snuck Nicole discreetly out of her upstairs classroom, explaining to her para that once the bell rang, we’d have to carry her downstairs. Nicole’s wheelchair weighs upwards of 150 pounds. Nicole beat the fire drill into the elevator.
At 1:50, I joined kindergarten dress-up just long enough to make Meaningful Priming Comments on how, sometimes, we need to stop having fun and get out of the building, and that it’s especially nice to have shoes on when you do that.
I:55 was just enough time to prep Finn, who historically has not done well with change, fire drills, or too much advance notice. His blase response: “yeah, the teacher told us already. There won’t be a fire. They’re just gonna give us balls.”
At the end of the day, we gathered at the steps for a group photograph. One of our most veteran teachers is retiring; a younger, brilliant man is changing careers. The school district, in its infinite wisdom and tight financial circumstances, has decided to cut both positions in order to save cash, dividing up the same number of students by a smaller number of teachers. Nostalgia is ever present at the end of the year.
As we wait for the fourth-grade teacher to set up the tripod, folks bring out the goodies from the Fireman Bags. One looks like a tiny cymbal, but it could also be a blush puff: we finally decide it must be for erasing the whiteboard. A kindergarten teacher passes gum around: I initially assume that it was also in the bag. I didn’t get my own bag, of course: the fire department didn’t put special ed into their goody calculations.
Three rows of teachers on the front steps; we smile.
My school does not need more Random Acts. My school doesn’t need 13 bags of miscellaneous charity. My school needs the people on the front steps in that moment–needs someone to listen to what those people need.
Our society is knee deep in random decisions–in thoughts that make short term sense and cause long term damage. Our state keeps cutting education because it can’t cut the prisons, and then we all wonder what’s up with all the crime.
Click. Another year is drawing to a close. I wonder what’s in store for those of us who come back next year. Will there be supplies in August, or will we scramble, as so many teachers do, to cobble together pencils and markers from the Office Depot back to school sales? After we lock the classrooms where the teachers are leaving, just how many kids will be sitting in the other rooms? All this new equipment, courtesy of the fire department: can we let the kids use it if we can’t afford the yard supervisor position any more?
I’ve always believed that no kindness, however small, is ever truly wasted. I’ve always been taught to say thank you for everything.
But I’m starting to realize that, when public education is seen as a charity, not an investment, schools will never just be handed the things our kids deserve.