The Nutcracker Chronicles: The Year of Dakota

Let me tell you a secret, Gentle Reader.

Teachers don't like every kid they ever teach.

Surprising, I know.  But it's true.

Yes, even elementary school teachers.

I know a lot of people have this idea about elementary school teachers...  That they're Mary Poppins-esque martyrs, that love every child, believe the children are our future...  teach them well and let them lead the way.  Show them the beauty they posses inside...   (you're singing right now, aren't you?)

But here's the devastating, bone crushing, truth.

Some kids are just straight up turds.

That's right.


And if you have children, you should go ahead and assume your kid is one of those turds, go out and get your child's teacher a really nice Christmas gift.  Seriously.  Go.  Right now.

I remember when I was in college.  Idealistic, vivacious, great hair...

Even then, I knew that the girl next to me was in for trouble.  She was convinced she could be besties with every kid she came across.  hmmm....  Remember rule #1?  Yup.  Don't try to be their friend.  She didn't know...  I wonder how her teaching career went?  I hope that she is a fantastic teacher with lots of eleven year old best friends.  And that her lollipop tree in the back yard is flourishing.  And that she rides a unicorn to school every morning.  The end.

But really, Gentle Reader.  That just isn't how it is.  Obviously, a person wouldn't choose the path of teaching unless they truly loved children.  However...

You can't save every starfish.  (Remember that story about the starfishes?  The little boy was walking along the shore, throwing starfishes into the surf.  Then someone comes along, and says, "You can't made a difference to all of the starfishes."  Then the boy picks up a starfish, tosses it into the ocean and replies, "Made a difference to that one."  remember that story?  okay.)

You just can't.

But someone can.  And you just might be that particular child's someone.

It's surprising which kids can grow to love you, to need you.  Sometimes a child can be your starfish but everyone elses turd.  (okay, I didn't see this whole "turd vs starfish" thing coming, but I'm just going to go with it.)  

Or, a kid can be great for everyone else, but hate your guts.  Why?  Who knows.  But they make your life hard.  In which case, it is helpful to have a friendly rapport with the gym teacher, so you can say, "Dodge ball?  Good.  Make sure Tyler S. gets nailed.  That little turd has it coming to him..."  

Just kidding.

Not really.

But I digress...

So, Dakota was one of my starfish.

Tall for his age, quiet, brooding.  Struggled academically.  (Which incidentally, often results in turd like behaviour at school.)  Not what I would call a friendly kid...  Always seemed to be on the outside of things.  He was very frustrating to his classroom teacher.  Didn't do his work, talked back...  you know.  that kid.  But for some inexplicable reason, he wasn't that kid when he was with me.  Dakota was still himself, he didn't magically transform into some little well adjusted future class president or anything...  And he was still a little sassy...  (sassier than I put up with, anyway.)

But there was something...


He was just a little different with me.  Just a little.  Just enough.  I didn't get big hugs.  No declarations of, "You changed my life, Mrs. Evans.  You're the best teacher in the world."  Nothing like that.  He was...  just a little bit happier.  Not a lot.  Just a bit.  He liked to be with me.  Why?  I have absolutely no idea.

So, even though Dakota wasn't the strongest musician in school, I put him in my honor chorus.  (pretty sure he just moved his lips and never sang a word.) I put him in my xylophone ensemble.  (and changed my directing technique so that he had a little extra help for every note he played.)

One day, Dakota came in early to school.  He was very quiet, and wouldn't meet my eye.  "Here."  he said, quietly and placed a small wad of tissue paper in my hand.  I don't even think he stayed in the room long enough to see me open it.  Inside was a small pin.  A little Nutcracker.  I smiled.  I didn't often receive gifts from students.  Drawings, thousands.  But not any actual presents.

Later that afternoon, Dakota's grandmother came in to see me.  He lived with her in a nearby motel, from what I remember...  I don't think he had any contact with his mother and father.  "I just want you to know," she began, "Dakota picked that out for you himself.  He bought it with his own money that he was saving to rent a new video game.  But when he went into the store, he saw that little pin.  I couldn't talk him out of it.  He insisted on buying it for you."
My sweet Dakota...

I still didn't get hugs, no "I love you" like I heard a hundred times a day from the other kids.  But I did catch him smile when he saw me wearing his pin.

After finishing the fifth grade, I didn't see Dakota again.  I was a stay at home mommy with baby Lucas when he came back to the school to see me one afternoon.  I wasn't teaching anymore, so I have yet to see the man he was growing to be, the man he's become by now.

Of course I still have my little Nutcracker pin.  Of course I do.

I smile every time I see it.  And I think of Dakota.

 photo joyful-sig_zps350c7fb1.jpg

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