Tabula Rasa

18 Oct Tabula Rasa

Blog by Danielle Emspak, Montclare Head Teacher – Featured Blog on Huffington Post!

Another attack occurred on a group of unsuspecting, innocent people. The grainy cell phone video of terror is imprinted in my mind. I think to myself, is it the image or the sound that disturbed me most? I know I can never forget the sounds.

Back to this moment. It’s 11 AM and I am at work. I am a teacher. A preschool teacher. It has been six years at Montclare and although there have been challenges along the way, I am fortunate enough to say, this is a job I adore. My students are currently in music and movement. They are giggling uncontrollably as their big breath knocks over the movement teacher.

And then the awful sounds of the attack slip back into my mind. I quickly shake them aside. I start to think about the world we live in today. I wonder if I will ever really and truly feel safe again. At times I think I can physically feel the hate. I can’t turn on the TV, scroll through Facebook, or listen to the radio, without seeing it, hearing it, reading about it. It baffles my mind why we all just can’t get along. I suppose that’s the preschool teacher in me.

I think back to the night before. It’s peak election season, so I sat down to catch up on the latest developments. To be completely candid here, it was partly so I would have something to contribute to my morning coffee chats with my colleagues. Within five minutes I had to turn it off. I realized then that I can’t watch TV. To be honest it’s too upsetting. I felt hot tears spring to my eyes while I listened. Even if the politicians (Democrat or Republican) aren’t physically harming each other, the words being tossed around so frivolously, describing one another, are despicable. These people are potential “leaders” of our country and instead of discussing the important issues, they are calling each other names. What kind of example are they setting for today’s youth? If someone doesn’t agree with you, just insult them?

I jump at the sound of a loud thump. Two boys have accidentally collided into one another. Neither is injured, but the one who took the bigger hit is still on the floor. The child who knocked him over is standing above him. I am anticipating the tears, waiting for the standing child to turn and run away and continue playing, victorious. After all, he landed on top. I leap up ready to intervene, but freeze in my tracks, witnessing something so pure and perfect that I am momentarily stunned.

The standing child bends down to his classmate and says, “Are you okay?” The other child slowly stands and shows his hands to his friend, saying “They hurt a little bit.” “Let me help you,” his friend offers. As I watch these boys literally and figuratively pick each other up and dust each other off, I feel a pang in my chest and throat.  “We all fall sometimes, next time I might need your help,” I hear before the two boys rejoin the class.

At 11:15 AM on a Friday at a school in New York City my worldview shifted.

I realized just how much hatred is learned. You are not born angry. You are taught to hate. You are taught to harm your brother, sister, friend. You are taught to call people names. We are each born a blank slate, a tabula rasa if you will. It is our job as teachers, parents, people, to fill that slate. We need to teach love, teach acceptance, teach tolerance, teach our children that being different from one another is a beautiful thing, and it is what makes the world go round. In short, we need to start leading by example!

The world can sometimes feel so dark right now, but in this moment I feel hopeful. I feel joy, and I can see the light at the end, shining out of each of these three year olds. As Mark Cohn croons lyrics about Walking In Memphis, the lights are turned low and the kids are swinging around multihued scarves. It’s a sea of colors and tiny hands and for the first time in a long time I know for sure that there’s a whole lot of good in this world.

Danielle Emspak is a Head Teacher in Montclare’s 3s Program.  With her MS in Clinical Social Work (Concentration in Children and Adolescence) and an MA in Early Childhood Education and Special Education, Danielle has been a highly valued member of Montclare’s Teaching Staff for over six years.


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