Amplify Love with Open Hearts and Minds

She came running across the room and was in my face before I knew it.  Big bright eyes, and a knob of hair twisted up on each side of her head and a smile that forged through her too big Cindy Lou Who teeth  and blurted out,  “Who are you?” “You look like you are nice” she added. I replied, “so do you!” as  she grabbed my hand and led me over to the table where she was working with her 5th grade friends.

Photo from

Kids.  Oh how I have missed kids.  Wednesday of this week, March 30, 2022 was the first day I have been allowed back in schools since the world shut down Friday, March 13th 2020.  Two full years without access to classrooms.  Two freakin’ years without access to the heart and soul of what I do, the bread and butter, the reason for doing it all…these kids.  Soul singing, I sat  and languished in it all.  Kids with noses in books, kids in loud sobbing tears, kids playing games, kids writing, kids in small group instruction, kids working independently, kids working with partners, kids roaming the halls, kids, kids, kids everywhere.  Oh how I have missed those faces, the indescribable thrumb of a classroom in process, the amazing patience of teachers and how intently they listen to their students, face to face listening, deeply listening and responding to every move, disruption and celebration all in one breath. 

I forget just how exhaustingly beautiful this profession is.

And for all of my intentions to remain somewhat invisible as I observed, just wanting to get a sense of where these teachers and their students lived and how they spent their days, I went hardly unnoticed.  In fact, my presence seemed to cause a disruption in just about every room I went into.  I wondered, had I lost my touch of effortlessly slipping into a classroom, sitting myself down in a tiny chair alongside readers and writers or was it something else?

“Is she someone’s mom?”

“No, she is just here to observe for a little bit, I mean she might be someone’s Mom, but not of anyone in this class.”

“What is she doing here?  Can my Mom come in?”

And he wouldn’t quit.  The interrogation into who I was completely disrupted this teacher and her small group work.    I skulked down lower in my blue plastic molded seat and gave the teacher an apologetic look for such a disruption.  And then I realized, this was a novelty not only for me, but for everyone.  They had not HAD visitors in two years either.  I take a breath and acknowledge once again how the pandemic effect reaches out, creating moments that you are just not prepared for. 

Photo Credit: from ZME Science

And this is just on the surface, as I look around at seas of faces and wonder, how has the pandemic effect affected you and you and you and you and you screaming and crying shamelessly out loud for being offended?  What social graces have been lost?  What emotional barriers have been built?  What fears linger for those who still choose to come to school amongst newly naked faces, with your mask still tightly wound around your face?  

And then there are those teachers’ faces.  More weary than I recall as they have to teach as well as manage all of the outside noise, disruption, distrust, disillusion, and downright attacks on their profession, their lives, their livelihood, their very souls from an arena outside that has very little, if anything to do with what these people do and how they perform and keep moving forward each and every day, every hour, every moment.

I can’t help but think how lucky these kids are to have such talented, expert, devoted and dedicated teachers show up each and every day for them. 

Photo Credit: Great Big Canvas

Lift them up.  Ask what they need.  Offer your time or your hands or your resources.  Engage in the community  of real live people with an open heart and open mind.   Take all that time you devote to ripping people apart on social media and get involved with living, breathing people in real spaces, face to face.  We can do that now! Leave the screens, the echo chambers, the talking heads  and your tag lines at the door. Re-engage and reconnect to beating hearts with love.  Someone may just say, “hey, you look like a nice person.”  and you may reply, “so do you”.

12 thoughts on “Amplify Love with Open Hearts and Minds

  1. So happy to find this in my inbox this morning, Tomasen, especially that line: “I forget just how exhaustingly beautiful this profession is.” With all that’s been going on with David, I’ve basically retired. But that line made me remember what a privilege it was to have spent all that time with children and teachers in classrooms, which I’m incredibly grateful for. Vicki

  2. Thank you Tomasen for reminding me of the privilege of empowering young people to go out into this upside down world to care and understand others through reading and writing. It’s us teachers holding this fractured world together. “Exhaustingly beautiful” captured it.

  3. Teaching is both tough and wonderful. Sometimes students who look and behave like nice people are just “performative nice” and students who speak gruffly and have a tough shell turn out to be the nicest of all. My father-in-law (may he rest in peace) once asked me “When will you stop teaching?” I said, “When it’s not fun any more.” It’s still fun for me. But it’s tough.

  4. This last line really stood out to me, and in turn also made me smile, “Someone may just say, “hey, you look like a nice person.” and you may reply, “so do you””.
    As a teacher I always hope that deep joy and appreciation I have for my students shines through in my face, but I often fear those doubts, worries, struggles, etc. may win out in my “never been able to hide what I am thinking” expression. Students pick up on the smallest shifts, and it is important that we are mindful of our outward reactions, as they may cause inner and outer reactions in our students.
    More deeply this post hit me as a parent. The only thing we have always told our own children is to be kind. Be there for others. Be kind to your teacher. Any time we get that report as parents, that report that our child is a great class member to all at the school, that is when we are the proudest.

    Thank you for sharing these words.

  5. I wish my high schoolers responded to “strangers” like little 5th grade Cindy Lou Who! Alas, you know what they do instead? They put on their best behavior, because a new person is in the room! It’s a fantastic phenomenon. It’s been a while since it’s happened. I remember observing other teachers during my internship year (something they gave us time to do, unlike here in the “real world” of teaching, something we’ve talked about in class), and noticing the students stop their side chatting and their slouching and put on a real best-behaved performance so as to a) not embarrass their teacher or b) impress the rando? Either way, it’s hilarious. I wonder if I “look” like a nice person. It depends on the state of my RBF, perhaps. 🙂

    I love the line, “I mean she might be someone’s Mom, but not of anyone in this class.” Indeed! Astute!

  6. It’s naturally ingrained in me after 25 years of teaching to try and acknowledge as many kids as possible per day, even with just smiles or eye contact. High schoolers certainly want to be seen and heard, whether they seem to cool for it or not. I kind of take for granted how simple, but impactful those small interactions are on the students’ end, but you have reminded me here that it is worth the effort. And when you get the unexpected acknowledgement back from them, it makes you feel like a helium balloon headed for the ceiling!

  7. The pandemic gave me some powerful feedback.
    Teaching remotely during the peak of the pandemic revealed how essential it was to approach my students more holistically and with more empathy. If students weren’t engaged and didn’t do the work, it wasn’t because they were slacking (my default notion of them prior to pandemic), but rather because they were dealing with numerous challenges (internal or external). Or, it was due to uninteresting lessons in which they found little relevance. Without the use of “sticks” (fixed grades, detentions) to reinforce consistent work behaviors, we had to engage them by… actually engaging them.
    While all of us now, back in the classrooms, better appreciate the sense of belonging and community and even love (Are we allowed to say that?) that we missed to some degree when being remote, let’s not forget that some of the joy we are experiencing with students NOW might also be because we have recentered what is important and what is more fulfilling for our students (and us).

  8. (Hopefully this comments sticks!)
    I love how high schoolers in particular behave super well in the presence of a “NEW” person, as they figure out who the guest is and if they need to impress them!

    I love the part about you being “someone’s Mom, just not anyone in the class.” I suppose that’s a nice thing to consider!

    Community in the classroom is so, so good. Students don’t really get the chance to tell me about their random interests over a Google Meet call. I didn’t mind much of remote learning, but those special connections with kids is definitely what I missed most.

  9. This was a lovely read. For me, trying to find ways to let the students know you see their humanity is as important as any skill you might impart. Conversely, I try to be the most human I can be with them and for them while still challenging them to challenge themselves. An earlier comment mentioned bringing love into the classroom…I wholeheartedly embrace this. I tell my students I love them at the end of every class. I tell them I appreciate that they are doing what they can, I try to lovingly indicate when I think they are capable of more than they think. I try to love them into leaving their fears of failure behind, one moment at at time, because that is when the most valuable learning occurs. Conversely, I try not to be afraid of failing in front of them. I am not sure any of this is relevant, but it is what I was thinking about after reading this. Perhaps the connection is that I feel these ideas are always important, but perhaps more important now, after the events of the last few years.

  10. Hmmm. The pandemic effect. I used to stress about standardized test results much more than I do now. I used to worry about quantities of things–units, pages, vocabulary words, quizzes, tests, texts, essays, presentations–much more than I do now. And time was always the enemy.
    I don’t worry about those things as much these days. Whatever it is, it’ll get done if it needs doing, but not at the expense of this day or the students in my care. Now, I love giving them time. Time to write, share, read, create, converse, research, question, contemplate, discover, practice, revise, reflect, and participate in learning because that’s what matters.
    At least that’s how I’ve felt since the pandemic started. I hope the feeling stays. Lately, I’ve been having brief flashes of panic–are we doing enough? what if they don’t finish in time?–and I wonder if I’ll inevitably return to my old ways as if this new-found perspective, like the loss of taste, was just another symptom of the virus.

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