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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Teacher Note: Know Your Students' Backgrounds

As I am reading posts about presents kids are getting from their kids, I recall the story of a former student.

For purposes of privacy, I'll call my former student J. J was raised by her aunt and uncle and called them Mom and Dad. Her mother had died when she was younger. Even if she had been alive, I think that she would have lived with her aunt and uncle. I believe there was a background of drugs and overall unstable life choices.

J is a wonderful girl. She is full of life, happy, emotional, interested in other people's lives (atypical for a teenager), ready to love and be loved, and truly grateful for what she had been given in life. She knew that other people felt bad for her, but rarely did it herself.

I taught J in middle school and we had an extremely tight staff. We knew her background and realized that certain things had to be handled carefully. One of these things happened to be any Mother's Day themed activities that we did. You would think that in middle school, these activities would be passe, but they aren't. Middle school kids still get into doing just have to hook them the right way.

Anyway, I tutored J after she left middle school and one day, she came to tutoring extremely upset. She had spent most of the day in the principal's office after being kicked out of English. Apparently they were working on a poem to give to their mothers during class. J refused to do it and the teacher kicked her out. There were no questions asked. There was no discussion. Get out if you won't do it...oh, and by the way, you're getting an F for the assignment too.

Luckily a counselor saw J in the principal's office and took over. She knew the background of the situation and handled it appropriately.

I'm not exactly saying that the teacher handled it inappropriately. I wasn't there. I can't say either way. What I am saying is that she could have taken some time to try to figure out why an otherwise agreeable student was refusing an assignment. Let's be honest, J wasn't exactly forthcoming with the information either...her feelings were that she didn't have to share her mother's death with a teacher that she had little respect for in the first place. Okay, your choice.

What I am saying is that teachers need to take the time to know their students' backgrounds to the best of their ability. Some parents aren't comfortable with sharing family information...such as divorce, a death in the family, or chronic/fatal illness. I get that...everyone has their right to privacy, but if parents would share just a little more, counselors and teachers would be able to handle certain situations in a more appropriate manner.

As a teacher, you walk a really thin line between compassionate loving person that shows up every day of that student's life and disciplinarian who must instill rules and give consequences. Students rely on you for consistency and a shoulder to cry on. Parents rely on you to not overstep your bounds, but it's hard sometimes. Most teachers love their students and would do anything to help them along. When a student is dealing with something that is life-altering, teachers can be the best person to inform since they spend a great deal of time with your child.

Not really sure why I posted about this. I think about J every Mother's Day and wonder if any of her teachers have unknowingly put her in this situation since...all it would take is a comment. She has since graduated high school in another state, but we still keep in touch (all hail to FB). She is truly growing into such a beautiful person...

So, teachers, as hard as it is with so many kids on your caseload, try to get to know your students.

Parents, as hard as it is, let your kids' school in on your lives a little bit the end, you're only helping your child.