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Helping Kids Deal In Spite of Life and Baggage

There are moments when it’s difficult for me to have certain edu conversations. I would love to drown my thoughts in twitter chat hoopla but it’s not happening…not today. Today, I get to deal with real life and not to say that what we discuss in the edu realm isn’t real…but this is the stuff that we never discuss…the real stuff that children face when they leave our schools.

Yesterday, I watched a young single mother clutch her children as her belongings sat on the side of the street of the home that she could no longer afford. We stopped to help them pack and move them to her grandparent’s home. I did not know this young lady nor did I know her children but I knew the pain in their eyes all too well. Her babies were 5, 6 and 11 years old and this is the memory that they will carry with them…their things on the side of the road. By the way, they will all walk into a classroom Monday morning with these memories…their baggage.

We don’t know what kids go home to. We know what they allow us to see. We think we know but we really have no idea.

Even when we do know, some issues are out of our reach yet the children that deal with them daily are well within our hold. I’m not talking about situations where children are in danger. I’m talking about those moments when parents are doing all that they can…yet life for them is just much more difficult than most.

It’s hard to get a kid to care about math when he’s worried about where he’s going to lay his head at night. It’s hard to get a kid to care about science when his only meal, which happens to be at school, was missed because the cafeteria ran out of food.

For older kids, especially those accustomed to struggle, it’s even harder to get them to envision a life beyond high school where they would leave their parents to seek higher education, because through all of the struggle they just want to stay and help at home…which is typically what occurs.

On a personal note, it has been an incredibly difficult 8.5 months watching my sister struggle to make ends meet while dealing with the disruption of her family. What I could do is what I did. We make sure that the 9 year old is ok…that he has an outlet to create and deal…that he can still see the light through darkness. His puppets give him that.

Today, as I sit and watch him dance around and sing “The Circle of Life”, ironically in spite of life…I know that in doing all that we can do, we are doing as we should.

Now, we just have to find a way to make sure that the rest of these kids have this kind of access to “light in life” too.

Comments 2

  1. One of the things I worry about with the modal teacher age skewing young is the absence of this kind of wisdom and compassion in looking at kids. When I taught, I had a student named Charlie who was very depressed and difficult to engage. I found out eventually that his mother was dying of cancer in their small, one-bedroom apartment. I didn’t know what to do with that information. I would be happy when he showed up, celebrate glimmers of effort, but I had no idea beyond that what I should do.

    Fast forward years later. I am diagnosed with advanced cancer and spend over 2 years in treatment. My then-11 year old comes home every day and needs to help her dad with cooking, cleaning, and caring for her baby brother. Her homework takes a backseat. We manage to advocate for a reduction in her assignments. I think of Charlie. I feel a deep sense of shame: I didn’t know what he needed. I didn’t even know to ask.

    Our students do have a lot to carry some times. We need to expect as much as possible from them, but also have compassion and flexibility as we support them in meeting those expectations.

    1. Lani, this comment…your comment is LIFE. We don’t have all of the answers at the moment. We rarely do. Charlie’s story and your story will always be linked and both offer insight in their own right. I had a student whose mother died from cancer during his sophomore year. I didn’t have the words nor the experience to help him as I wish that I could’ve. It took may years for me to earn that…to know what to do. We must always have high expectations, but compassion is key. Hugs help. We must remember that too.

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