A few years ago our county hosted Dr. Ruby Payne. Every educator in the county was expected to read her book and attend the day-long training. One of the things which stuck with me from this experience was the idea that teachers are often far-removed from the worlds our students live in. The home I return to each evening — warm, clean, filled-with-food — the family unit I’m a part of — husband, daughters, son, parents, grandparents — the emotions I feel — accepted, relaxed, loved — are far different from that of many of my students.
Today I asked my colleague Cathy to observe me teach my ninth grade class. A lot of the work Cathy and I have focused on in her classroom has been in regards to honoring children with our language and actions. I asked her to notice if the atmosphere is one which honors students.
As we reflected, I realized the heavy lives my students lead. Lives which are very different from mine. It makes me realize this is true for must of us. There are many students in our classrooms who lead rough lives and their lives are very different from their teachers’ lives.
Our students struggle with:
- Being removed from their homes because their parents deal drugs.
- Not knowing where they will sleep because their parents are angry and have kicked them out.
- Feeling fat, over-exercising, bingeing and purging.
- Failing again and again and again. Failing so much that it is better to not try than admit they’re not smart enough.
- Rejection by parents.
- Physical abuse.
- Mental abuse.
- Sexual abuse.
- Cutting themselves so they can feel their pain on the outside.
- Saying no to their peers, only to be ostracized.
- Being bullied because they are a little bit different.
- Hunger. True hunger.
- Living with alcoholics.
- Family members dying.
- Heat being turned off.
- Parents losing their jobs.
When I look at this list and I think about what I know about writing, I realize I can give my students a gift that will sustain them. I can give them a gift for coping. Writing not only influences others, it changes the writer. It can help us survive.
Take a few minutes to think about the lives your students are living outside of your classroom walls. Make a list of their struggles. It will make you a better educator . . . at least it did me.
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