Monday, March 17, 2014

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” - Charles Dickens

It is virtually impossible for students to learn when they are dealing with painful issues at home.  As teachers, we cannot control the events and relationships in the student’s family, unless abuse is suspected, which must be reported immediately to your principal.  I urge you to care enough to ask a student why he or she is not performing in your classroom.  Of course, you must first gain that student’s trust, and you must not be afraid to show your concern for his or her well-being.

Many years ago, I had a very bright young woman in my tenth grade English II class.  During class time, she participated, she was interested, and she led the classroom discussions with fresh ideas and a insightful perspectives.  I saw a huge red flag in her behavior, however, because she never handed in one assignment.  Never. Not even a partially completed assignment. I asked her about her lack of work on several occasions, but she was never able to look me in the eye with a straight answer.  During the next few weeks, I continued to give her kudos in the classroom, but her grade was suffering.  I asked her to stay after class one day, and I sat in a student desk and invited her to sit at the desk next to me. (I wanted her to know that we were on the same level, which is why I did not sit at my desk and ask her to stand. I wanted to communicate to her that I cared for her as a person, not just as my student, with no “I am the teacher” body language.)  I leaned forward and earnestly asked “Are you ready to tell me why you can’t do any homework at home?”  I was flabbergasted by her disclosure, and you will be, too.  I have never forgotten the look on her face as she summoned the courage to speak through her tears:  “My mom leaves for work when I get home from school.  I gather my baby sister and her diaper bag, and my mom drops us off at the mall.  I walk around carrying my sister in my arms until my mom picks us up when the mall closes.  If I stay home, my dad will sexually molest me or my sister, and I don’t want him to touch my sister and ruin her the way he ruined me.”

I cried with her and told her how much I appreciated her honesty.  I let her know that I would speak to her guidance counselor. She was okay with that, as she had been bearing this terrible secret for a long time. I notified the Guidance office and the Principal, who notified Children and Youth Services.  Teachers are not permitted to know what actions are taken, but her name was taken off my roster and marked “moved”, so I can only hope that she was removed from the unsafe environment and placed in foster care, or that she fled with her mom and left the dad behind.  I just hope she went someplace safe.  She felt safe in school, and excelled while she was there. I hope she became a teacher.

Students have problems that you and I can never even imagine.  The learning process is difficult enough without having the added burden of problems at home.  Be open to student needs. Seek help for students who need help.  Students bring their baggage from home to school every day.  Be the kind of teacher who helps them to store it, rather than carry it. 

Rittman Publishing, LLC

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