"My name's Sally, and my hair is naturally curly," the little blond-haired girl told me, as she bounced her curls with the palm of her hand.
"Well, they certainly are pretty," I replied. "I'm your teacher, Mrs. Kirby, and I'm glad to meet you."
As I reached to shake Sally's hand, I marveled at the confidence this little fourth grader displayed on her first day at a new school. The two adults with her introduced themselves. Kevin and Sara told me they were attorneys, and were Sally's legal guardians.
"Sally will be staying with us while her father looks for a new job out of the state. Until then, Sally's mother and older brother will stay with Sally's grandparents."
As I escorted Sally to her seat, I wondered why there wasn't enough room for her to stay with her mother, but didn't ponder the question too long, since I had a classroom of students needing my attention.
The year progressed, and I discovered Sally was an adorable child. She was friendly, gregarious, outgoing, and had a ready smile for all she met. Sally did, however, have a problem with punctuality. She was the last to be seated each morning. She rarely finished her assignments, not because she didn't understand the material, but because, as she put it, "I like to take my time." Sally dwaddled whenever we moved from the classroom to other areas of the school building. While others rushed out the door at the end of the day, Sally was the last to leave when her bus was called. There was always one more thing she needed to tell me before she left. After I was certain Sally could take the kidding, I began to fondly call her my "little slug."
"Sally, you're going to miss your bus if you don't get yourself moving," I'd tell her.
"Oh, the bus driver won't leave me," she'd reply, smile, wave, and slowly pull her backpack down the hall. "Bye, Mrs. Kirby!" she'd call out from someplace down the hall.
As the year progressed, the problem of her unfinished work became serious enough to require a conference between Sally, Kevin, Sara, and myself. The conference proceeded with the usual items being discussed: sweet little girl, unfinished classwork, homework not being completed. What was unusual, however, was when Kevin requested we close the conference with prayer. When we held hands, and each prayed, I didn't consider what my principal would think, or what the public school district policy dictated against such an open religious display. What I did contemplate was the power of God that radiated through my classroom at that moment, and how he was working in the lives of four people in a small classroom.
Toward the end of the school year, Sally came into the classroom and sat down, barely saying a word. That's unusual, I noted. Her chatty, bubbly self was nowhere to be found.
"Sally, you okay?" I asked.
She nodded without looking at me. That wasn't like her at all. Several more times, I asked how she was doing. Each time, she replied, "Fine." Believing her not to be "fine," I asked Sally to come into the hall so we could talk.
Once in the hall, Sally sat sideways in a chair that was placed outside the classroom. I knelt in front of her.
"You okay?" I asked again.
"Yes," she nodded as she stared at the floor.
I wasn't buying it for a moment. "You sure?"
I gently brushed the back of my hand against her knee. Before I could remove it, she quickly reached out, grabbed two of my fingers, and held them tightly in her small hand.
"Anything special going on today, or anything happen last night that I can pray about for you?"
There was a long pause as Sally sucked in a deep breath. "I went to my mom's graduation last night," she said finally.
"Oh. Well, that's exciting. Did you have a good time?"
"My brother was there."
"Were you glad to see him?"
My mind began to whirl as I tried to put together pieces of the puzzle, which was Sally.
I had to be careful in choosing my words. What can I say that would best help this precious child? I asked God.
"Did he sit with you?"
"No. He sat behind me." Tears began to form in Sally's eyes, and she clutched my hand tighter.
Pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place, and a picture I didn't wish to believe, nor want to accept, began to form in my mind.
"Does he scare you?"
I put my arms around Sally as her little body shook with emotion. Her tears felt wet on my shoulder.
"Please God, be with Sally and give her your peace," I whispered so just the two of us could hear.
"Sally, you stay out here until you feel like coming back into the classroom." I opened the door to the room, grabbed a box of tissues on the countertop, and handed them to Sally. "I'm going to email Sara to see if she wants to come talk with you. Would that be okay?"
Within minutes, Sara arrived at the school. After talking with Sally, she decided to take her home. While Sally packed her belongings, Sara and I talked in the hall.
"She seems really upset about seeing her brother at the graduation last night," I began.
Sara hesitated, then with tears starting to form in her eyes, she told me why Sally lived with Kevin and her. "Sally's brother has repeatedly raped her in the past. She couldn't stay with him and her mother any longer. Kevin and I are her advocates."
With tears in my eyes as well, Sara and I stood in each other's embrace, grieving for the pain of a little girl with naturally curly hair, knowing all the while, that there were far too many other situations just like Sally's. As we stood there, I was all the more aware that just as Sally had an advocate in Kevin and Sara, we all have an advocate in Christ.
The last week of each school year, I ask my students to write letters to the next year's students, telling them what they have to look forward to in my class. There are the usual letters that say: "Don't worry, Mrs. Kirby won't bite your head off"; "Mrs. Kirby is the best teacher ever"; "Mrs. Kirby is the quietest mad person I know." Among all the letters my students have written, there is one that stands among those I will always cherish.
It was written by a little girl with naturally curly hair, who wrote, "Don't be afraid to tell Mrs. Kirby your problems, cause she'll pray for you."
What better tribute could a student give her teacher than that?
S. Kirby is a pseudonym.
Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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