As a Drama and Playwriting Teaching Artist, I have instructed thousands of youth in Philadelphia and surrounding areas. There is one group of students, however, that stands out to me as the one that taught me the most. This group, a bunch of kids who stayed after school twice a week specifically for “Drama with Ms. Brandi”, was a rambunctious crew of 15. Ranging in age from 6 – 8, they’d barrel into the gymnasium to meet me after the final school bell as if they’d been shot out of a cannon.
“Ms. Brandi, we went on a field trip today!”, “Ms. Brandi, my tooth is loose!”, “Ms. Brandi, my mommy is having a baby!”
They were so excited to tell me all about their lives since the last time I’d seen them, and I was just as excited to hear about it all. Well, actually, I really just enjoyed seeing the joy in their faces when they were sharing their news. They were always so earnest and genuine with their emotions, and that had the ability to transport me outside of myself, away from my issues, and remind me of the importance of being in the present. It was pretty awesome…but that’s not even the best gift I received from that group.
Because I was a contractor and teaching all day at several different locations, there were times that I’d be cutting it close getting to a school. If traffic wasn’t just so, or a teacher talked to me after a workshop for even a minute longer than I’d allotted for, I was at risk for being late. This was particularly true on Thursdays since the school I was teaching at before this after school program was quite a ways away. Knowing this, and with both schools being unable to adjust the schedule, I hustled like crazy to make it to the second school on time every week. One day, after just barely making it before the dismissal bell led my students to me, I figured I should prepare the group on what to do in the event that I was ever late.
While sitting in a circle after doing a warm-up activity, I explained to the students that I had another class before I came to their school. I let them know that I always made an effort to get to them on time, but if something ever happened that made me late, I would still come to them as soon as I could make it, and that they should sit down and eat their snack like they always do until I got there. Then I assured them that I would never not show up when they were expecting me. I wasn’t a mom then, so I didn’t realize I probably shouldn’t have made a promise like that to a group of little kids. But, I was young, and I was idealistic, and most of all, I meant it.
Naturally, a few weeks later, a car broke down on the road on my way to my after school group, and I found myself, first, cutting it close, and then late. I was calling the school office frantically, but there was no answer because it was dismissal. My heart and my head were both pounding thinking about my students waiting for me, their parents having to be called to pick them up early because their drama teacher didn’t show up, and then getting fired because you can’t just not show up to work. It was a nightmare.
I finally pulled into the parking lot of the school nearly 15 minutes late and ran to the gym. Going up the hallway, I didn’t hear the telltale sound of the children’s voices, and my heart sank because I knew that the school, the kids, the parents, everybody, would be so disappointed with me. As I walked into the quiet room, though, I was greeted with squeals of happiness, and then applause, from the children! They were there! My students were there, in that gymnasium, eating their snacks, waiting for me! The school secretary was sitting in their with them, and as I apologized for being late over and over to her, she told me how she wanted to start calling parents but the kids told her that I’d be there. They assured her that I’d promise that I would never not come, and they knew what to do until I got there.
Whoa! These kids taught me more about faith that day than I had ever learned in all my twenty-something years. They had only known me for 4 weeks, only spent a total of about 6 hours with me, but in that short time, they trusted that I would do what I said I would do. They believed that I would be there because I’d told them I would be there. That’s deep. As they finished their snacks, I thanked them for waiting, and asked them what made them stay. I mean, come on now, these were 1st and 2nd graders…and a few kindergarteners, too. After the first 5 minutes they should have been scared, or crying, or something! Over and over, though, the students responded with different variations of the same answer, I always came, I said I’d always come, so there was nothing to worry about.
Now, isn’t that something? From the mouth of babes, y’all, came one of the most true lessons that I’ve ever learned. If the actions and the words match up, that’s a good reason as any to have faith in someone. Those children didn’t add any of their own extra baggage to the situation (“My Daddy left my Mama, so Ms. Brandi isn’t going to come”), or even let the school secretary, who didn’t know me to trust me, influence their faith in my promise to them. I have reflected back on this moment so many times in my life since then. I can still see those little faces with their eyes all lit up when I walked in, probably most excited about being right about me.
As I move on in my life, I’m having to put faith in people that I haven’t known for a long time. I’m grateful that I had this experience with my students, because it reminds me that sometimes things do turn out right, and people do exactly what they say they’re going to do. Just like my students were right about me, I’m hoping that I’m right, too.