Earlier this month this world lost a legendary writer, Toni Morrison. The Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel Laureate penned poetic works that garnered the attention and respect of many. Her stories highlighted the reality, beauty, and oftentimes painful experiences of the African American, and they planted much needed seeds of urgency within the reader’s mind to really think about and positively impact the human condition.

I was introduced to her works in graduate school during a Historical African-American Literature course. Amid the symbolism of characters and their circumstances rested so many truths about life—my life—and the lives around me who share in this experience.

Moreover, her works evoked inquiry and introspection that causes society, and in this particular case, educators to reflect.

During a 2000 interview about her award-winning book, The Bluest Eye, Ms. Morrison posed a question relative to educators. She asked, “When a kid walks in a room, your child or anybody else’s child, does your face light up?”

We as educators have been conditioned to prepare students for the future by ensuring their safety, teaching to the standards, and monitoring their academic progress. While all of these things are important in the process of education, they can never take the place of compassion and validation displayed from an educator to a child.

Mere thought of the educator’s “To Do” list tires most of us. I often encourage new educators who are overwhelmed with the great responsibility of teaching to look into the eyes of each student for an indication of how and where to start the process. What I should add to that advice is that while we [educators] are looking into the eyes of our students, they are also searching ours. Ms. Morrison’s quote reminds us of this.

The Light in Our Eyes

Every child deserves to see our eyes light up when he or she enters the room. One may ask how does that light in our eyes look?

The light in our eyes should differ for each child. Somewhere within that light every child should see eagerness in our eyes complemented by our willingness to fulfill a need. There are too many needs to list; however, the following should be evidence as part of the light in our eyes:

Eagerness to see them. The value of human connection still remains priceless. Whether he or she demands your attention or not, each child wonders if you, the one who agrees to protect their educational interest, will see them.

Even if it takes navigating their disinterest and sometimes cross talk, who they truly are as individuals is sometimes buried underneath. Our eagerness to really see and get to know the true “them” rests within our efforts.

Understanding. Acknowledge their situation without compromising the quality of their educational experience. If we were to speak truthfully, quite a few of our students are expected to not only live through, but also thrive in situations some adults could not fathom. We must remember that their misfortunate circumstances do not automatically stunt their futures. Just as we are not who we were five or even two years ago, students are now not who they will be.

Yes, they need us to know and try to empathize with their circumstances. But because they have a future that will meet them whether they are ready or not, they need a quality learning experience that requires them to strive for high expectations. Educators who really see them will not only require the very best but also stand alongside them to give them what they need while they aspire to meet or exceed those expectations.

Presence or absence of light in our eyes speaks volumes. It is more than the semblance of light in our eyes; it is also the action that goes along with it. We as educators must do more than look like we care; we must show that we care with each decision and action we make.

To say, “Educating children takes a lot” is an understatement.

We must ask ourselves each day, “Am I willing to exercise patience and perseverance to ignite the potential of my students?” This is the follow up question to Toni Morrison’s very poignant one. If genuinely pondered, both questions would plant a seed of urgency needed in every educator’s daily walk.

Click on the video link below to listen to additional thoughts I shared about Toni Morrison’s poignant question for educators.