Volunteering In My Wife’s Classroom Opened My Eyes
by Brent Wooten
His wife is a longtime teacher, but commentator Bret Wooten says it was the time he spent volunteering in her classroom that opened his eyes to her world.
The other day my 7-year-old daughter Joslyn triggered a memory when she asked me: “Why do we give other people money when we can’t buy everything we want?”
But I don’t believe she’s quite ready for my answer, just our example.
About two decades ago, my wife began teaching second grade in a small school in the same low-income area she grew up in. She unknowingly walked into a classroom with several dark secrets she would keep from me.
The principal trusted the other teachers at Michelle’s grade level to select the students that would be placed in her class. They did not select the most gifted and talented. Each night when we spoke, she would ramble through different strategies she was using to reach each child, often times feeling overwhelmed and frequently wondering if she had selected the wrong career.
She was terrified she was not good enough for these children.
Tax season came around and I asked my wife to give me the receipts she had for teaching supplies. The stack was enormous! And I was quite certain that most of it was not deductible. I rudely pointed out “the purpose of work is to make a profit!” She did not argue with me. She simply asked me to help her the next day at school and went to bed.
When I came by that next afternoon, I found myself surrounded by the children doing projects and I jumped right in. I dropped by the school as often as I could, volunteering enough so that the children were used to me at this point. But one young man always kept his distance. After the kids had gone, I asked Michelle why. She then revealed her dark secrets, the histories of the children in her classroom.
These kids endured everything from true poverty to sexual abuse. Her list of questionable deductions started to make sense: granola bars, orange juice, cereal, milk, jackets, band aids and endless school supplies.
The young man that would not approach me? She told me about him last. He had endured the worst. All the men in his life injured this child in ways that still bring tears to my eyes and a rage in my soul.
Then she said: “He needs shoes.”
The only thing I could mutter was: “What size?”
These days we think we will find the answer to so many questions within the pages of a book or the folds of a standardized test, but this is the reality of many children in America. I wish stories like this were on the news or touted by politicians.
Unfortunately, acts of kindness are far too common in education and thereby deemed unnewsworthy. If these stories were aired, maybe we could actually solve some problems instead of just pointing them out.
Bret Wooten is a small business owner from Lewisville.