Last Tuesday my shadow sneezed on me while the group sat at the table preparing for snack. Three days later, the most common incubation period for strep throat, I had the symptoms. The next day I was in the ER, thinking about that sneeze. It's not that I blame my shadow for an illness that incapacitated me for two and a half days, but I can't ignore the coincidence. When it happened, my mentor teacher joked that I would swig an Airborne and all would be ok. I did take Airborne. My new warning label for the box:
WARNING: Not effective against streptococci bacteria.
I haven't been this sick in decades. Welcome to the world of teaching preschool.
Thursday, before I knew what my weekend would hold, I received my first spontaneous hug from a preschooler. She came from nowhere into my lap, her arms around me, her face full of smile. It took me off guard. It brought a tear to my eye. This girl gave me three hugs that day and called me by name at dismissal. Though I have been warmed by the reactions of the children in the preschool, for the first time, I felt truly loved by a young student.
I have seen these kinds of interactions between students and my mentor teachers throughout my stay in the preschool. Each time a child threw his or her arms around the teachers legs, I smiled. Each time the same child said, "I love you Mrs. L," my heart secretly hoped that someday a student would feel that way about me. In those moments, I was envious of the simplicity of the relationship between preschool teacher and student. The teacher loved: the child loved back.
Spontaneous hugs do not exist in high school, at least not in the way I have witnessed them in preschool. High school students guard their feelings; many resent their teachers (or any authority figure); and often showing emotion earns labels of "uncool." In addition, in many schools "no touching" policies discourage any sort of physical contact between student and teacher, and a hug would certainly cross boundaries.
I have hugged students, girls who cried in my classroom before school, students who needed a pick-me-up during a particularly difficult time, kids who were leaving my class at the end of the year, but nearly every one of these hugs was purposeful, and it was initiated by me after careful thought about the consequences. I cannot remember a spontaneous hug from a student who just wanted to say "I love you." I cannot imagine it happening.
Perhaps it was fitting that I received this gift from a "Lamb" on my last day at the preschool for a while. My university responsibilities will be keeping me in the city and away from the little ones for the time being. I will return before the end of the semester, and maybe in the meantime I will seek out the one graduate student I know who gives spontaneous hugs. She is a preschool teacher, after all, and I think maybe her hugs mean more than I once thought.