Mr. Rogers was the man.
I used to love how, when he changed from his shoes to his sneakers everyday, he oh so awesomely flipped his shoe from right hand to left, like there was nothing to it. The man made changing footwear fun! (I won’t lie, I did that plenty as a child and sometimes, I still do. Fact.)
I, like so many other former children, was a major devotee of Mr. Rogers. When he died, I was a sophomore in college, and I assure you, I was not the only 19-year old male in my dorm who shed a tear for our dearly departed neighbor.
Why am I all of a sudden waxing nostalgic for the days of being a citizen of Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood? Well, when Steve Jobs died on Wednesday, oodles of people tweeted how he was one of the few people they never met whose death they felt profoundly touched them.
And that brought me right back to my man, Mr. Rogers. And for some reason, one of his trademark themes came back to me: “I like you just the way you are.”
To this day, I remember most of the words to one of his best known songs, “It’s Such a Good Feeling,” which you can watch here:
I won’t lie, watching that after so many years left me with goosebumps. The message at the end is so exceptional: “You always make each day a special day. You know how: by just your being you. There’s only one person in the whole world like you, and people can like you exactly how you are.”
What child doesn’t need to hear that message? It is ever powerful in its simplicity and significance. This year, I am trying to better accept my students as the imperfect yet wonderful people they are – as opposed to trying to force them into holes that don’t fit them properly (because, let’s face it, that has to hurt).
Another video, now, to illustrate his compassion for people with disabilities. His house isn’t wheelchair accessible, surprisingly enough, but you have to respect the quiet and kind way he treats young Jeff, as if he is like any other kid. Oh wait, he is.
Watch Jeff’s full appearance on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (in which they talk about Jeff’s life with a disability and how he inspires others) by clicking to the PBS web site. Or, if you prefer to just watch the two of them sing that ode to it’s what’s inside that counts, “It’s You I Like,” together, here you go:
Do you doubt your impact on your students? You shouldn’t. We can be the ones who help them understand that it’s not just okay to be who they are, it’s actually of the utmost importance to the world that they are who they are.
Like Jeff reflected years after his appearance, “Mr. Rogers made me feel as if he was talking only to me.” He made Jeff feel like no one else mattered, and that his whole world would be significantly lessened by Jeff’s absence from it.
Wouldn’t we all do well to try to make our students feel the same way?