This year, my two youngest children started walking to and from school.
On the first day, they were excited to tell us about their favorite crossing guard: Mr. Charlie, a grandfatherly man who stops each child to introduce himself.
He talked so long that first day, they began to fear they would be late to school. He was equally glad to see them on their way home.
Mr. Charlie is the first and last impression of school they encounter each day.
Just a few days ago, they told me they were on their walk home from school when they came to the last cross-walk. Suddenly, they realized Mr. Charlie wasn’t there. They stopped and looked at one another. One by one the children behind them began to pile up. None of them had ever crossed without Mr. Charlie before.
Finally, one of them blurted out, “What are we going to do!?”
“I don’t know,” said another.
“We’re going to die!” one began to wail.
“No, we’re not. We just have to cross.”
Finally, a small girl asked. “Who’s the oldest? Hold up your hands!”
The rest obeyed.
“Ok,” she said. “You cross first and we’ll follow you.”
“Ok,” said an older kid. “Ready, let’s cross.”
And so after looking both ways, in unison and all screaming together ‘We’re going to die’, they crossed over safely to other side.
It made for a great story that evening. And of course, we were relieved to hear the next day that Mr. Charlie was back at his post. They didn’t have the nerve to ask what had happened to him the day before.
When I heard the story of Mr. Charlie, I was reminded what an important part he plays in the lives of the children in his charge. Sometimes he makes them laugh with comments like, “If you paid your mom, she might give you a ride tomorrow.” But mostly, he marks the start and end of their daily school routine. He makes them feel safe. He helps them believe all is all right in the world.
As we go about the business of doing school, we can never underestimate the power of the role each of us plays in the lives of others.
Years ago, I ran into a graduate from one of the schools where I had taught. He came up to me and said, “Mr. Parker. Do you remember me?”
“Yes, I said. Remind me your name,” which is what I almost always say when trying to remember the name of the thousand or more students whom I have taught.
“Anthony,” he said, shaking my hand. “I wanted to tell you thanks. You probably don’t remember, but each day of class my freshman year, you would say, ‘I’m glad to see you today.’ It was a small thing but meant a lot to me. In fact, one night I had been in a fight with my parents. I ended up sleeping outside, covered by newspaper to stay warm, and when I dragged into your first hour that morning, you met me with a smile and said you were glad I was there. It was exactly what I needed to hear, and it helped me a lot. So thanks.”
It was one of those moments where I was speechless. I thanked him for saying hello, shook hands with him again, and found out how life was going for him.
I didn’t know it then, but I had been his Mr. Charlie that year, and it made him feel safe, took away his fear of the unknown, and made him feel everything was going to be okay.
Who are you being a Mr. Charlie for each day this year?
My guess is there is more than one student or co-worker you walk by every day who could benefit from your greeting or smile. There are people whose lives are better when you are on time, prepared, and happy to see them. Whether we are elementary age, high school age, or adults, we can all benefit from being a little more like Mr. Charlie.
Now It’s Your Turn:
What are some of the routines you practice each day that helps set the tone for your students or team?
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