Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

“The greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving” – Mister Rogers

Growing up I was a pretty skeptical and fearful child, which I’d like to chalk up to being a deep thinker who very early thought too hard through cause and effect, but I don’t know that I can. I feared many things from strange noises, certain reptiles, to the dark. But one thing I remember fearing but never truly voicing was the bathtub. I can remember many exciting things about bath time from bubbles and toys to deep conversations about life with my parents.

But I remember dreading the end of bath time. One, because I knew getting out of the tub would be shockingly cold. And two, because I feared going down the drain with the water. I loved to watch the water swirl down the drain, but I always wanted to be outside the tub as a safety precaution. I was maybe three or four years old. But one day that changed when a man on television I revered taught me something very simple. I vividly recall Mister. Rogers singing a song about how soap can go down the drain, water can go down the drain, but you can’t go down the drain. The relief that rushed over me in that moment changed everything.

You see Mister Rogers made a point to use his platform to intentionally give children the space to feel, fear, question, challenge, and grow their capacity as humans. He did not shrink back from issues that many might deem inappropriate or too much for a child to process. Instead he faced them head on with courage and grace by covering topics such as racism, self-doubt, death, war, fear and so much more. Fred Rogers longed to build each child’s capacity to manage their feelings and emotions. He saw the uniqueness, the beauty, the value and the worth of a child. And he worked tirelessly to assist in that development.  

Fred Rogers understood that a child’s capacity to feel, question and think deeply should be fostered and grown. He intentionally created a space in his neighborhood where children could ask hard questions and get real answers, where children were valued, seen and heard.

Last night I saw the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” This film should be required for all people who work with children, or just all people. With July quickly coming to an end and a new school year on the horizon, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” served as a beautiful reminder of why I choose to teach. 

When we are passionate about what we choose to do, we are unstoppable. Fred Rogers saw the value of what he was doing. He fought for what he believed was best for children. He went against what everyone else thought would work and did something he stood for even if it meant setting an egg timer for one minute and waiting in silence on television. And yet he questioned himself and wondered if he made an impact.

How strange is it to think about Mister Rogers wondering if he made a difference? That’s crazy to me. But then I think about how much I question my own impact. Y’all, if we are seeking the Lord, using our gifts and talents to make the world a better place, standing for what we know is right and doing what we are passionate about – how can we not make an impact? Rest in knowing that your kindness and how you serve others does not go unnoticed.

Teachers and those who will enter schools in about a month to start a new school year, I charge you with this: enjoy the end of your summer and do not start working too soon. But when it is time to get ready for a new school year, keep your focus on how you’re going to reach and build relationships with your students and families. Instead of fretting about the newest trends in classroom decor on Instagram, think about how you can build a classroom space where all children are welcomed and valued. Take a note from Mister Rogers and remind yourself and each child of the worth and value we each contribute to the world by being us. And go see Won’t You Be My Neighbor

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