Hugs…hugs are important.

I’ve been a school teacher now for about 7 years. Middle and high school can be very fun to teach, but they can be a right challenge too; with the body changes and emotional rollercoaster kids go through, some days it is a miracle to get alive and still sane to last period.

When you first start teaching, there are many things you have to get used to, things you weren’t expecting. In the case of boys, I would say it’s definitely the smell (old socks with way too much deodorant and sweat, yuck!); but in the case of the girls – and the thing I had more trouble with – is the touching. They touch my hair if they like how it looks, they touch my clothes if they approve of them, they touch my jewelry if it makes an impression, they would touch my shoes if all that bending wasn’t so awkward.

At first it made me uncomfortable and went against everything I had been taught at university (during a very unfortunate period in my country were there some very serious cases of students abused by teachers or other school workers).

Today I was walking down a hallway at school and as I reached the end I realized I had hugged at least five girls, shown a new bracelet to other two who had noticed, exchanged hair-related pleasantries with a group of senior year students, and walked hand in hand for a while with an adorably freckled 6th grader. And nothing had happened.

This took me back straight to my first year when the rules of my university teachers were still fresh in my mind (doors must always be open, no touching, no getting too personal, etc.). I was teaching high-school at a very prestigious private school where everything was wonderful except for the students’ family lives: I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many children so alone in this world. One day I went into my 10th grade class and a group of girls came up to my desk as they came in from recess. One of the girls hugged me but I was too uneasy with the situation to respond in any way. She dropped her arms, looked at me, and said:

‘Miss, I always hug you but you never hug me back.’

I wanted to die. In those quick seconds I thought, who am I to deny a child a hug when she needs it? After I hugged her, briefly but firmly, another student came up to me and murmured that she wanted a hug too and then another and another, and they were not trying to lose class time or annoy me, they genuinely needed the attention and the physical reassurance of a caring adult’s presence, I think. A couple of days later I found out that the mother of that first girl I hugged – freely and without feeling like a child molester – had died a couple of years back and now she was helping her father take care of all her siblings. Talk about my heart melting.

I don’t know why all this has been on my mind today, I guess the closeness I now enjoy with my students has shown me all the progress I’ve made since those first, hesitant days. Perhaps it is the sheer amount of affection my students need on a daily basis.

Anyway, now I’m the expert, if anyone needs a hug I’m here and I’m ready. Bring it on!

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