“If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?” ~Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton
Politicians are often told they cannot run on a platform of being against this or that. We must be for something.
So, what do I stand for?
I stand for the kid who
- gets relentlessly bullied and needs someone, anyone to stand up for them.
- has music in their heart and soul.
- is bad at math, bad at science, bad at reading and writing, bad at history, and needs somewhere to be and something to be good at.
- finds family at school because they have no good family at home (whether perceived or real).
- is brilliant in every way except test-taking, and as a result is held to low standards and retaught material they already know instead of being allowed to blossom and grow.
- just needs someone to love them. The kid who calls me “mom” because I’m the closest thing they’ve got.
- came to class for the fourth day in a row with a killer cough whose parents can’t afford to take them to the doctor or stay home from work to keep them home for rest.
- falls asleep in class because of whatever happens at home – yelling, violence, or just the requirement to grow older before their time and take on responsibilities they can’t handle just yet.
- cuts themselves for attention because that’s the only way they know how to ask for help.
I stand for these kids because often they have no one else to stand for them.
In many ways, I have lived a privileged life.
I may not be comfortable, financially, but I have a home, a vehicle that I don’t have to share with my spouse, and a cat. We put food on the table and we pay our bills on time. We have yet to have anything repossessed and have been incredibly lucky that, so far, every time things are starting to barrel out of control, we manage to pull a rabbit out of a hat and stop just before going off the cliff. I am lucky that I’m in the minority with this experience.
I also know what it’s like to work three jobs while trying to put myself through college, I know more recipes that involve ramen noodles than I am proud to admit, and I can do many different things with a can of chili. We make adjustments. I have a five-year-old that knows what “we can’t afford it” means. And that’s okay, because she didn’t need another cheap, plastic thing anyway.
But the thing is, I’m an adult.
It’s reasonable for me to be in a position to understand and worry about these types of things. My students should only have to concentrate on getting a good education and learning about how to empathize and love and care for others. They shouldn’t have to be the primary caregiver for their younger siblings. They shouldn’t have to quit school after 8th grade so they can get a job to contribute to the bills.
Whatever happened to their parents – whether it be bad decisions or bad luck – is irrelevant. That kid did nothing to deserve having their future seemingly stolen from them before their life even really started. And anyone who suggests that they should go without because of someone else’s mistakes or misfortune is cruel.
So I stand for the kids.
I stand for the “privileged” kids who are more burdened than they admit, and I stand for all the others. And they are my “hill to die on”.
Maybe the only thing some students see of me is yelling at them one more time to get back into the recess boundaries or stop running down the ramp by my classroom. I fully intend to always hold them accountable for their actions, their decisions, and their mistakes. That’s how we learn, how we pull ourselves out of a hole that someone else saw fit to dig for us. That’s the hope of those kids whose parents are too busy making ends meet to hold them accountable.
Those parents are grateful for positive calls and are willing to take any help they can get. They are the parents who blame anything but the truth because it hurts their heart too much to face reality. And I’ll be damned if I give them one more reason to give up.
Next time you speak to your friendly neighborhood politician, ask them what they stand for. And then ask yourself if it’s a worthy “hill”.