A couple of days ago, I was witness to a release of emotion from my some of my most challenging students.
Within a 5 minute time frame student A shared his joy at beginning the process to officially join a new family, student B was accused of doing something terrible by students A,C,D,E,F…, and student B quickly lashed out with a hurtful comment about student A’s situation.
Suddenly, I am in the hall pushing student A back from student B, forcefully telling student B to get to the office where he is safe, and trying to remind student A of how important the right response in this situation is-practically begging him to make a good decision.
Crisis averted I was walking back into an emotionally charged room where I was now supposed to teach Spanish for the next hour and twenty-five minutes.
So this is how my level 1 Spanish lesson began (imagine the italics are spoken in Spanish): “I know life is hard. I know we have problems. Parents fight- do you know the word fight? repeat the word fight; we have problems with money; we have problems with friends; and sometimes it is hard to pay attention in school. I know it can be hard.”
Student C looked up and half laughed with an awkward exposure of his emotion as he said, “Why does it feel like you are talking about my life?”
I transitioned into my normal lesson for the day, and it was the most attentive I have ever seen this particular group of trouble(d) students.
Their response made me realize that if they do not go to counseling or church, some of these students never hear someone acknowledge their lives are a struggle and that they are working really hard. They only get a response when they fail to keep it together, and the response is generally a disciplinary action. I wish they all knew how much their teachers really do understand and how we feel about them.
This is a letter to all the trouble(d) students I have ever had (and to all the ones to come):
Dear Trouble(d) Student,
I am sure you think all I want is for you to sit quietly, do your work, and learn. You are wrong. I want so much more.
I want you to know I see you.
I know you are battling to make it through most days. Your mind is crammed with worries and stresses I cannot begin to fully understand, but I see you. Some days you are a pain in my butt, but that is also because you are a pain in my heart. I hurt for you, and I want to see the best for you.
I want to see you succeed.
Now, I know this isn’t always easy for you to see. I have to teach content. There are over twenty other students in the room with you. Some of them are recipients of this letter too. I have a job, and the job description doesn’t leave a lot of room for showing you how much what you are going through does matter.
I want you to succeed, so some days I have to push you more than you like. Some days I have to try to make you see how what I am teaching is remotely significant in light of your most recent traumas. I wish you could understand that it isn’t always the content of the lesson I want you to learn. Sometimes the lesson is the ability to be present and overcome so that, some day, you will have a better chance at opportunities to improve your situation.
I want you to know I am often impressed by you.
I am impressed with the way you show up. Some days you do things that make my life very hard, but you are here. You give what you have when you can, and it matters. What you do and who you are matters. Some days, I see you make it a full hour and a half participating in the lesson and achieving. On those days, I am so proud of you. I am proud of you for finding a way to fight through all the crap of living to take steps toward your own personal success.
Occasionally, you find a way to block out all the things you have not been able to control in your world in order to focus on something you can control. You are a fighter, and I am cheering for you. I am in your corner.
I want you to know I am sorry.
My dear, trouble(d) student, I am so very sorry. I am sorry for the pain you feel; I am sorry for the cards you have been dealt; and I am sorry I fail you. There are days I am tired. There are days I forget everything you are battling, and I get so frustrated that you won’t just participate in something that will help you succeed. I let my exhaustion get in the way, and I run out of creative ways to keep the class functioning while still showing you I care. I am sorry.
Now that you know what I really want, let’s both try to make it through class tomorrow. Okay? Just remember; when I ask you not to call out inappropriately, move your seat, give you the look, or sit beside you and push you to do the work you want to ignore it is not because I don’t like you. It is because I want so much more for you.