Growing up in the Midwest, tornadoes are a mythical weather. We prepare and plan, but usually for no reason. We know how to grab a textbook, crouch against a locker, cover our heads, and pray that the good Lord planned another day. The news told stories of towns being torn apart and kids dying. The one time I saw first hand the destruction of a tornado solidified my fear to something monumental.
For some reason, I ended up in tornado alley for college. I lived through several scares. People died, but my college was always missed. My anxiety about tornadoes got worse. The mention of a tornado warning sent me straight into hyperventilating, tears, and calling my mommy to tell her goodbye…every single time. In college, my friends laughed but took care of me. My roommate would sprint across campus to check on me as soon as the coast was clear. I was really lucky because I had people in my life who took care of me, who saw my fear and realized that I needed to be supported.
Fast forward a few years–I left college, and began a career teaching in tornado territory. The thing about teaching during a tornado warning is that I still had to be the teacher in theory AND practice. I was responsible for student’s lives and welfare, while ensuring my class followed all the steps for safety. I had to remain calm. Through every drill, I crossed my fingers that I would not have to ever do it for real.
Then, the day came. The sirens rang and it was not a drill. I looked around the room for the adult in charge’ ready to follow their instructions. No one stepped up, because the adult was me. Why in the world would they make ME the adult? Did they not know?
I got my students in place and started to pace. My students,a class of seniors, saw my anxiety and tried to make me laugh. They helped me move things, they stayed quiet, they tried to distract me with silly jokes. One student said that they were hungry and with relief I realized, I could fix that. I had a box of Cheez-its. I handed out crackers to all the students and continued to pace.
The tornado passed and we remained unharmed. Afterwards, I sat in the vice principal’s office and had a panic attack. My students helped me contain my panic during the storm, but, now everything was over and the panic inside me poured out in full force behind that closed door.
While your tornado might not be a literal spiraling death wind, do not let your fears and feelings of being overwhelmed stop you from seeing the beauty and hearts of your students. My students didn’t cure my anxiety, but they met me in my time of need. They could sense I was freaking out, and made sure that I would stay calm. They successfully distracted and empowered me by giving me a tangible way to care for them. The Cheez-its were nothing more than a way for me to gain control, and they somehow knew that it was what I needed.
Thinking back, my kids demonstrated true maturity and humanity during that storm; sometimes you just gotta take the Cheez-its and make your teacher laugh. On the hard days that followed, whether with literal or metaphorical storms, it helped to remember their outpouring of love for me.
Don’t get swept away and lose sight of the goodness that surrounds you daily,