Glass Half Full: Offering safe harbor during a personal storm
Glass Half Full
Forty years ago I was just beginning my first stint as an administrator in a well known independent school in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. As head of the middle school, 110 sixth- through eighth-graders and the faculty who taught them were under my charge.
I was pretty confident that I knew what to expect in my new role. I didn’t. In fact, few can possibly appreciate the multiple roles and opportunities that confront educators at any level on any given day. There are things that job descriptions can’t begin to predict or advise how to manage.
Andrew, a sixth-grade boy first taught me that lesson is a way that I will never forget and that has impacted my interactions with other students ever since.
Andrew and I knew each other slightly, as our school was small enough for teachers and students on different levels to share some experiences, however neither of us would have described our relationship as close. He had a reputation of being a good kid, no trouble on any front, well adjusted and capable.
Andrew’s grandfather, with whom he was very close, died unexpectedly during the summer, when Andrew and his family were away on vacation. For inexplicable and inescapable reasons, the sudden loss of his grandfather paralyzed Andrew with anxiety.
Add to the scenario the fact that Andrew’s father was wheelchair-bound with a degenerative disease, and the result was that the boy was literally incapable of getting out of his car in the morning.
How easy it would have been for Andrew’s parents to let him stay home, where it is likely the feelings of anxiety would only have increased. Instead, his father drove him to school every morning, after normal drop off hours, where I would meet them, open the door of his father’s van, and gently-but-firmly pull out Andrew.
He never resisted. Both he and his father silently wept on those mornings, while I did my best to appear as if there were nothing out of the ordinary. We would go to my office, where I would attend to desk work while Andrew sat quietly.
We never talked about what was happening or what he was feeling. We simply shared safe space. At some point, be it ten minutes or an hour later, he would announce he was ready to go to class; we would wish each other a good day, and he would disappear.
Neither of us can remember how long our arrangement lasted; it simply stopped being necessary. Last weekend, Andrew and his girl friend stayed with me as they passed through Incline on their way to Napa.
We share a special bond, he and I. He can’t really articulate the feelings he had in sixth grade, and he acknowledged that the same anxieties cropped up occasionally during high school. What Andrew taught me 40 years ago is that sometimes the best assistance we can offer is to be a safe harbor during someone’s personal storm.
And that personal storms rage around us frequently, even in the young.
Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at http://www.laketahoeschool.org.