Have you heard of sand mandalas?

They are created by Buddhist monks. It takes years of study for a monk to learn all that needs to be known about creating sand mandalas. Groups of monks work together to create them. A group chooses a design and sketches it out with ropes and rulers on a table.

Then the monks use simple tools to form the mandala with colorful grains of sand. They place the sand grain by grain onto the design.

Isn’t that amazing? I think it is. The design takes days and weeks and months to create. The finished mandalas are beautiful, ingenious and wonderful.

When the monks are finished with their creations, guess what they do. They do not set them out or hang them up for all the world to see. No, they do not do that. Instead, they take brooms in their hands and sweep the mandalas away.

Can you believe it? How astonishing. All of that time and effort is swept away. The monks simply gather the swept sand into their hands and drop it into flowing water of a river as a blessing for the world. Then they begin work on another sand mandala. Wow.

Teaching is like building a sand mandala. For example, I pour myself into the life of a student from Honduras. I use words to paint a picture of her human face. I write about her earthy brown eyes. I use words to fight the injustice she faces each and every day.

I write against powerful people who try to deny my little student her right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, who try to deny her her human rights. I use words to paint a picture of her human life.

I pour myself into the life of Patrick. He and his family are from Peru. He has been in the United States for a few years.

One day, his friend Alexander got hit on the side of the head with a soccer ball. “Are you okay, Alex?” I asked. “Do you need to go to the nurse?” His eyes filled with tears, and he burst out crying.

“I’ll take him,” said Patrick. He put his arms around Alex and held him. “Come on, Alex, I’ll help you,” he said. Then Patrick teared up and began to weep. He is that kind of kid. Kind and courageous, feeling the hurt of others.

As an elementary school teacher, I’m a witness to miraculous moments like these every day. Moments like the life of Patrick. A human life. My St. Patrick.

I stand in the middle of something beautiful in these moments. Then I sweep them away. I drop them into the flowing waters of newspapers and blog sites, offering them as a blessing to the world. Then I pour myself into the next student who walks through my classroom door.

The human faces, the human lives, are all around us. If only we have eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to understand.

A friend from high school sent a message to me recently. “The world needs you,” she wrote. That message lifted my heart as if it were a basket under a hot air balloon set free to rise into a blue, cloud dotted sky and float gently over the good green earth. (I’m thinking about the movie “Up.” Can you tell?)

The world needs my immigrant students, too. They are sand mandalas. They are human faces. They are human lives. They are grains of sand who flow out as blessings to the world, as blessings who can make the world a more human place for everyone.

I am thankful to be their teacher. And I am thankful they are mine.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series for Public Schools Week (February 27 – March 3). The previous article in the series is:

Public Education in the Wake of COVID-19 | David Wilkerson

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