Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Seeing Beyond

     Ever have a really bad day? Or week? Maybe everything in your life is in turmoil. Illness, strife, transitions--all of these can be contributing factors that distract you or keep you from doing your best. When times are tough, we want people to cut us some slack. So do students. Life happens and oftentimes it isn't happening the way we thought. Instead of complaining about a student's lack of focus, maybe we should show we care and take time to find out why.
     I teach at-risk kids. It seems their lives are in tumult constantly, usually through no fault of their own. Some don't know where they are going to sleep, what mood dad will be in when he gets home, how they're going to get to work because their car died, what bills they should pay...well, you get the idea. There is so much "stuff" going on in their lives that school often takes a second or third slot in their priorities. Maybe we need to look beyond the curriculum, see the student dealing with struggles, and realize that school isn't all there is in their lives.
     Growing up  wasn't easy for me. I can relate to a lot of the difficulties my students face. Maybe that's why I'm quick to give second and third chances. When I see a student struggling, I know there's more to the story. By taking time to converse with my student beforehand and establish a relationship with him or her when they start my class, it will be much easier for them to confide in me later when they are facing difficulties. I don't want to be their counselor, but I do want to be someone they can turn to for support and empathy.Sometimes that's all they need.
     We can have tunnel vision as teachers, focusing solely on the class and not the student. We're under pressure to teach content, meet standards, achieve proficiency and so much more. Some days the last thing we want is to hear the troubles of our students.But by taking a moment out of our day and showing genuine concern, we can make a difference.
      A student I had eight years ago stopped in the other day to visit. I remembered her clearly and was glad to hear how she was doing. What surprised me was a comment she made. "Remember when I was going through things and you talked to me? That was the first time I had a teacher care more about me than school. And what you said stuck with me. I think of it a lot when times get stressful. Thanks for what you did."
     Eight years. Honestly, I didn't remember the incident. But she did. Maybe what we say won't resonate with us, but it may with our students. We need to look beyond school and see the teen standing there, feeling helpless, adrift, troubled, and confused. School can wait, but their problems can't always.
     Seeing beyond school to the life our young people live isn't always fun. It can be complicated and messy. And that's just for us. Imagine what it must be like to live in the situation.Seeing beyond school to the student standing there is imperative--it can make all the difference.

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