When studying to become an early childhood educator, I always remember a lecturer stressing the importance of maintaining a professional distance from becoming too close to the children you teach. It was unprofessional to develop strong feelings for children. I always struggled with this as I am a feelings person. I often asked myself “is it wrong to love the children you teach?” I get close to people I share my time with, children included.
Upon becoming a qualified teacher, I did indeed become close to many children. It is hard not to genuinely care for the children you spend more time with than you spend with your own family.
There was one child who I will never, ever forget. She reminded me of a little wild animal, who had been tamed. She was the sweetest, most beautiful child. She made you feel special that she allowed you to be close to her. She made you feel special that she cared for you. She loved rainbows, and she loved running and dancing. She could light up any room she bounded into. But at times, her inner wild animal would come out. She wanted to be a zebra when she grew up. When other children explained she could not be a zebra because she was a person, she would stamp her feet, frown the deepest of frowns and growl that she was going to be a zebra. Nobody dared to disagree.
When she loved, she loved with all of her heart. She would grab me in the tightest hug, her teeth would grind and she would shake. But when she was angry, her feelings would come out with such intensity. This beautiful wild animal would toss her head, stomp her feet and fiercely let her anger be known. I loved her. I loved her passion for life. I loved the way she let her feelings be known. I loved that she didn’t conform. I loved her for being her and the special moments when she loved me right back. I loved her wild ways.
Just as suddenly as she won my heart, she broke my heart. She passed away suddenly and I was devastated.
I was in shock, I missed her and I loved her more than ever before. How did I let myself get too close to her? Why did I let myself love her so much? Why did I feel this way when I was supposedly a professional educator? Teaching wasn’t supposed to feel this way!
I beat myself up for being unprofessional. Of course we were all deeply saddened at her passing, but I felt that if I had been a professional educator, I would never have let myself have such strong feelings for her.
My little zebra friend left a huge hole in my life.
Her funeral was surreal, I kept expecting her to come galloping in and shout “I’m here” with the same enthusiasm she always had. I told her mother I loved her. She thanked me.
In the weeks following, I seriously considered quitting teaching for ever. I really beat myself up for allowing myself to fall into the “trap” of loving a child I taught. I had failed in my own eyes.
Her mother starting asking lot’s of questions about her precious child. She wanted to know the smallest things. I shared everything. She asked me to write a book of sorts, before I forgot all the little things about her daughter that she never experienced. I wrote everything, absolutely everything. A no holds barred account of everything I ever knew about her little girl. The things you may not always tell a parent about their child for fear of upsetting them. Basically, the good, the bad and the ugly. I wrote it all.
When I had completed this “book” I was nervous. I worried I had forgotten things that mattered. This book was the most important thing I had ever written in my life! I worried her parents wouldn’t like my account of their little girls life. I was wrong. They loved it.
Her mother shared that this book was filled with memories she had missed out on. It is hard as a working parent to leave your child with others, and to know that her precious child was genuinely loved by others in her absence meant the world to her. To know that the little things she loved about her daughter, were the same things I loved about her daughter, meant so much to her. To know that I loved the intensity of her anger, as much as I loved her gleeful laughter was so important.
I don’t think anything will ever heal the heart of a parent who has lost a child, but to know their daughter was loved and understood by those who she spent her day with must certainly make a parent feel the tiniest ray of sunshine in their darkest of days.
So is it wrong to love the children you teach? I would have to say no. Love those children with all of your heart. And then love them some more!