About a month ago I received a sketchy letter from Ronald McDonald House Charities Fund. At first quick glance, it seemed like a sweepstakes-type of letter asking for money, and I almost threw it out. Then I re-read it. It mentioned their local heroes program, where they select and recognize teachers from Western Massachusetts and Connecticut. I still didn't really believe it, so I checked their website, and sure enough there were lists of teachers from other years who had been honored and an explanation of the program. The next day, I saw that it was indeed true when my principal showed me a check made out to our school for $1000.
It was right around the time of the creepy clown hysteria. After much joking around and laughing (much at my expense) with my co-AP and principal, we figured that it was unlikely that Ronald McDonald himself would be showing up at school to scare the children and hand me the award (if only creepy clowns were our biggest worry right now!)
Yesterday, I was presented with the TV-version of the check by a representative from RMCHF (not even closely resembling a clown) in front of the whole 8th grade, including my mom and daughter, and then in front of the 7th grade. I wasn't really prepared to say anything, but I ended up speaking for a minute. I told the students in the first assembly that they are the reason we, their teachers, come to school. I told them that I hope they know and feel that we love them and care about them, truly care, about every single one of them. To the 7th grade, I dedicated the award to my special class of 6 students, most of whom are in that grade. I said each of their names slowly and found them in the audience to make sure they heard.
I hope that some of them really heard my words. I think our students need to hear the explicit words sometimes: we love you. Yes, even the ones who drive us crazy, the drama queens, the divas, the angry ones, the ones who are hurting so much inside. All of you. We care about you. We pray for your safety. We wish for your success. We hope for your happiness. You inspire us. We are here for you. We wake up in the middle of the night and worry about you. We wonder what happened to you when you leave. We hope your future is bright. You are the reason we do what we do.
Behind many judgments we make of "bad" kids, there is a story.
For the most part, kids don't WANT to misbehave; there is usually something else going on behind the scenes. Sometimes as teachers we don't have the luxury of stopping our teaching and planning for dozens of kids in order to figure out what is really going on. As a now half time teacher, half time AP, I have been able to dig in deeper to at least a few cases this year to find out what is really going on.
For one particular student, we were convinced that he was being defiant and disrespectful to adults. We had to give him instructions and reminders constantly, and even then he wasn't doing what we asked until the fourth or fifth time.
Finally, after a meeting with a desperate and sad mom, it occurred to our principal that we needed to look at his history and at his past IEPs to see if we were missing something. Indeed we were - we were missing several things. The new findings brought to light some of the very real issues this student is having, including a lack of understanding verbal directions in two languages, and a fear of being picked on by his peers.
With this information in hand, I saw the student in a new light. Instead of a defiant kid who refused to listen to, even walked away from, adults, I saw a child who is confused and trying to figure out the world around him despite his huge challenges. And I could see the change in him; instead of a kid who avoided me and other adults because he thought we hated him, he began looking me and others in the eye and responding, and even at times smiling. I know we still have a lot of teaching to do with this student, and a lot to figure out, but I feel much more hopeful than I did 2 weeks ago.
Tomorrow, we reconvene his team to make official changes that will hopefully get the student the help and services he really needs. I hope that his parents will feel some relief and hope for his educational future, rather than being worried, anxious or upset over all the negative phone calls they have gotten.
I only wish all educators had the time and resources to really delve into each student's profile like we did. I wish WE had the time and resources to do so with each student that comes through our middle school doors. Flipping the narrative one at a time is better than continuing with the same old story, though.
Disbelief. Anger. Dismay, disappointment. Fear. Anxiety. Deep sadness. These are the feelings many teachers in my school and I were feeling (are feeling) in the aftermath of November 8's astounding election results.
I find myself turning to writing to process and debrief. Until now, I have literally been unable to focus enough to blog. Throughout the work day yesterday, I went through pretty much every stage of the grieving process, as I'm sure many of my coworkers did.
Luckily, I work in a place where the response yesterday was amazing: a heartfelt, reassuring letter from the superintendent to all the families in our district, a warm letter to the faculty at school, lots of concern for students, and many, many check-ins among teachers. Teachers thoughtfully processed the events with their students in safe, nonjudgmental ways. Students participated in civil, mature discussions. It was heartening.
My heart broke when soon after the first bell in the morning, a student - I'll call her Mireya - was brought to me in tears. One of her teachers allowed her and other students the time and space to write about how they felt without needing to share with anyone. I knew Mireya's background and family and understood immediately why she would be upset. She told me that her mom had woken up very early, and was crying and upset, and Mireya was worried about her. They had moved from a Latin American country 4 years ago, with the same dream many as many other immigrants: find work, , escape violence and poverty, create a better life for the kids.
Mireya is a smart and hardworking student who I often call my "TA"; she helps me with everything in class. I literally would confidently leave her in charge of the class if I could. Seeing her so sad and scared made me realize how real and terrifying the outcome of this election is and will be for so many people in different ways.
I hugged Mireya and tried to think of what to tell her that would make her feel safe. So, I told her that her community supports her, and will stand up for her. I told her that her teachers love her, and that I love her. I told her that it will take many months before any concrete actions will happen that force her family to leave. She apologized for crying; I told her that she never has to say sorry for crying, and that she didn't always have to be so strong. Her relief was palpable.
I sent Mireya back to class, and a little later, I called Mireya's mom. She was also upset but trying to hold it together. When I explained to her that Mireya had been with me and was scared and nervous, she broke down as well. My heart broke for her. Through her tears on the other end, she thanked me for the school's care of Mireya. She said that if it were for her only, the results of the election wouldn't matter so much - but it was all about the kids. They had come here for the kids. They had settled in our little town, and finally felt safe and welcome.
I tried my best to console her. I repeated everything I had said to her daughter. I told her we'd be talking about the election in class, and even possibly writing letters to the next president to express how they feel and take some constructive action. I tried to make her feel like she could feel safe in our town again.By the end of our conversation, her voice sounded more calm. She thanked me again for calling and for taking care of Mireya.
These are the after effects that we, teachers, will be dealing with - the students who are not documented, students whose families are comprised of LBGTQ or who are themselves LGBTQ, students of color, and poor students.
Here are some resources I will be turning to in the next few weeks to help my students process, understand, and take action - maybe they can be helpful for you as well. Please add resources you like in the comments!