"If I could give you the best behaved kids and the most well-cared for kids, I would. But these are the kids I have to give to you. These are the kids you have to work with. They aren't going anywhere." Her voice was strong and hopeful, as she looked at the teachers sitting before her.
And I knew, deep down, that each word she uttered was true.
My teaching career began in a setting far different from what I was accustomed to as child. I never had to worry -- as some of my students did -- about where my next meal was coming from or if it was coming at all. At the end of each school day, I knew I was going home to a house where there was electricity and running water and love. I was blissfully unaware of violence and drugs and hate and prejudices. My only concern, other than becoming the future Mrs. JTT, was to apply myself at school.
That is what is amazing about having our needs met: when we have what we need, we are suddenly free to focus ourselves, to apply ourselves, to challenge ourselves, and to eventually succeed.
But many of my students had experienced a world far different than my own.
I taught students who fell asleep on empty bellies at night, and who woke up not knowing where they would sleep the next night. They came from broken homes -- a divorce, a prison sentence, a death. I broke up fights and confiscated knives. And I questioned why any child would act that way? I saw apathy and disrespect and destruction. And I wondered why they didn't care?
That is what is unfortunate about not having our needs met: we often lose our focus, our drive, our will to succeed.
"If I could give you the best behaved kids and the most well-cared for kids, I would. But these are the kids I have to give to you. These are the kids you have to work with. They aren't going anywhere." Her words were not an apology. They were not a sign of displeasure nor defeat.
This was a challenge. A challenge to face reality with a sense of urgent optimism. A challenge to -- despite the many obstacles -- not give up on the people who needed us the most.
There was no room in her words for excuses. No room to point fingers and blame potential failure on lack of funding or parenting or society.
We weren't going to let hunger or poverty or homelessness stop us. We were not going to deny students the help they deserved because their needs were too great or their challenges too significant.
And we rose to the challenge. And it worked. And we all succeeded.
On nights like tonight, when my Facebook newsfeed is inundated with headlines about Human Services cuts in Illinois, I wish Governor Rauner could have sat in on that staff meeting -- a stack of half graded D.A.R.E essays in front of him, uncomfortably perched on a chair designed for a fifth grader's frame.
I wish he could have heard her words as they danced in the air around us -- full of determination and hope. In that moment, I think he would have realized that "we are the people he has to work with." Our needs may be great and our challenges may be significant, but we aren't going anywhere.
Maybe, had he been there, had he seen the conviction in her eyes and listened to the sincerity of her words, he would have accepted her challenge to not give up on the people who need help the most.
And he would have rose to the challenge. And it would have worked. And for once, we all would have succeeded.