If you are a Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman aficionado like myself, you may remember this certain story once told during an episode. I heard the story and was moved by it years ago, way before I knew I would be a public school teacher.
Here’s how it has been remembered and reshaped in my teacher brain over time:
A king once traveled to a remote village in his kingdom, announcing that he would be leaving his young child in the care of the citizens there. He proclaimed that when he returned at an unknown future date, he expected to find his child happy, loved, and thriving. The catch was this: In this village of many young children, the citizens did not know who the king’s child was. Their only option for ensuring that the king would return to find to a happy and healthy child was to treat every single child as if she or he were the king’s daughter or son.
Whether the king truly left his child in the village was never known by its people. What they did know was that once they began acting as if each child was the king’s child, this view reorganized their priorities and colored both individual and group decisions. All of the village children came to believe that they were valuable and gifted. From that belief came creativity and achievement. The children thrived, and so did the adults who carefully loved and cared for them.
The year 2020 has certainly brought many of its own opportunities to examine priorities and to rework how we care for children. For you, my fellow teacher, it has been a marathon project of colossal proportions. For you, the stakes are high.
You see each young boy as the king’s son. You see each young girl as the king’s daughter. You see yourself as personally responsible for the growth of each child who calls you Ms., Mrs., or Mr. You take on countless and constant tasks attached to this responsibility, regardless of whether you were given enough resources for the job.
Whatever fears were there before… the kind of fears that come once you have seen a former student give up on their dreams, or learned of a former student’s imprisonment or overdose, or read a former student’s obituary… yeah, all of those fears have been heightened exponentially this year.
It takes your breath away at times. It keeps you up at night, searching your brain for some new idea that might get more students to join your Meet or complete tasks or ask for help. Your personal insecurities resurface with gripping power amid all of the new challenges and pressure. You sense the urgency of this time. You wish for support while you keep finding more strength. Your instincts tell you that a longer teacher to-do list cannot remedy all of the barriers in front of your students, but still you try to locate and remove the barriers.
You are the keeper of the king’s child. You see those dark shining eyes looking at you above the mask, trying to understand the Math. You tutor that son of a single mother who wants to go to college and make his mom proud. You encourage that first-generation American daughter of a dad who sacrificed so much so that his daughter can be safe and receive an education. You seek out and celebrate the talent of that child who is trying to decide whether or not to keep living.
So let the privately-educated politicians chatter. Let the social media philosophers and the inexperienced experts carry on with their campaigns, typed out in a comfortable and hygienic place far removed from the front line where you battle for children each day. And yes, move on past the parent rants about that kind of teacher. Sure, they are out there.
But that’s not you.
You are a keeper of the king’s child. You see each child’s beauty, gift, and potential. You live your life accordingly.
You and your colleagues should not have to do this alone. The entire village should join in your efforts.
You are weary, but you are not forgotten. I see you. I am a fellow keeper of the king’s child. Get some rest, and we’ll do it all again tomorrow. If we can get the village to see each child as we do, things will change.