One of the Real Reasons Teachers Get “So Many” Vacations

Holiday vacation: it’s all about the reflection. “Student I” has been on my mind after his confession that his father hit him on Monday because of his absences. I know he isn’t the only one I have to worry about and I did all I could. But it took me until today until I realized one important thing:

He is scheduled for a parent teacher conference Monday. Worst. Timing. Ever.

Let me tell you something about this student: He is the type of student who absolutely will not and I mean will not give you anything if you haven’t built a personal relationship with him. He will skip your class and be completely disrespectful to you. He often comes to my class telling me another teacher or an administrator got on his case, about something completely legitimate, and he “cussed ‘em out.” He always tells me he has cussed someone out, about three times a week. The thing is, this student was skipping my class and the beginning of the year but has completely stopped doing so and is there every class and is never disrespectful with me. Because I have built this relationship with him.

The teacher who requested it…is…more heavy handed than me. I know the good side of her but I fret for how this meeting will go, and for what the fall out will be. I am wondering if I should give this teacher the heads up or if there will be even more consequences of THAT.

I also reflected about this question: Do I have psychic ability? Before Student I even came to me this meeting was scheduled and I immediately scheduled a block of time with this parent afterward. I wanted a meeting to give the other side, to cushion the blow. I already figured this dad has heard a lot of the complaints but his son’s good side and good habits in my class deserve to be heard as well. (I am not a psychic but I hate to admit how old I am but I have been doing this for nine years and I do read people and situations like this pretty well.) Even still, I worry is this Monday will go the same as last Monday for this student at home.

To add some humility to this post are two things:

I have emailed a colleague and asked for advice because she is smarter than me.  J Should I give this other teacher the heads up about the home life or not?

I also have this reflection:  I don’t build relationships well with all of my students and have actually made damaging choices that have probably branded me as a bitch forever, which is ok, but have probably shut some students down for good, which is not ok. I know I bring my own biases into my class every day. That is why I immediately get on the same page as the misfits, every time, because I was and am one. The students I sometimes have the worst time with are the popular kids, the jocks, the pretty girls, etc. I know on the surface I realize that the jock who is too cool for school not only has something damaging him and weighing him down but he needs what I have to teach him as bad as anybody else and I just gotta break through to him, like everybody else. But underneath, am I remembering the “type” of kid who used to throw milk at me in the lunch room? Why am I not able to simply find multiple layers on which I can relate one human to another? Sometimes I do and I vow to get better at it. This is what this reflection is all about.

I teach at a truly struggling inner city school where these kids truly have the odds stacked against them in ways you have never seen. This is not bleeding heart stuff, and if you really need to we can look at data. I always want to make it clear that this is not an excuse to expect less than success from them; it is only my way of explaining how proud I am of these tough, resilient, strong kids. There’s been a lot of talk about “grit” lately and hell yeah, these kids got grit. But almost every single one of them is like Student I, they need a personal connection with their teachers to cut through their practiced bad academic habits and they need to know a teacher legitimately cares before they can put down their built up anger and fears.

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The Worst Time of the Year

Picture the scene: Tuesday afternoon, RIGHT after school lets out. We are officially on Thanksgiving Break and a group of teachers have gone down to the local pub where we all bum rush the bar for whatever well-earned drink we are getting and for most of us it is beer. The cast of characters include a few diehards that have been at the school for almost a decade, actually, I think I am only one of the two, an adjustment counselor, a few newbies, and every style of person from old to young, doe eyed to the original hipster academic type.

One of the newbies leans back and looks at me from two teachers down.  “Which do you think is the hardest time of the year? Do you think its March when we have that long stretch with no days off?”

He doesn’t expect this, but I say: “Now, the holidays, it is the worst. There is nothing good about this time of year.”

“What do you mean?”

“Our students –“ I say kids, I always say our kids, my kids when speaking about them. “LOOSE THEIR MINDS. All their traumas are triggered-anything from bad home lives that they have to go home to and spend extended vacations at, or holiday stress causing more abusive situations, or students who have lost a family member and they have to go through the holidays without them… We have the most amount of kids with stories and needs coming out of the wood work needing help needing extra support, being volatile and touchy and off the wall.”

“Oh…but what is the worst for us do you think?”

“Now,” I say again. I know what he means. What we do wears us all out, but we need these breaks, every year more than the last, only if we simply forget how tough our first years were, and at least this time of the year they come frequently. But for me, the hardest time for our students will always be the hardest time for me.

This year I go on break with “student I” on my mind who came to me today about abuse at home and I won’t see him until the holiday break is over to know if he is ok. I followed all protocol and reported it, and processed with the student afterward, glad to miss my lunch break to speak with him one more time before the day was through. I wonder too, about the students who have erupted into needless arguments with me this week, the ones that are the easiest to overlook since what they are doing seems like anything but reaching out for help, the one who broke into tears in class yesterday and wouldn’t talk to me, the ones who haven’t been here all week, and what about that boyfriend roughly slapping his girlfriend around in the hallway today? This is only Thanksgiving Break, I think, and this will get worse before it gets better. I dread the last few days before vacation because I worry, and I have even less control than I do on weeks I see them five times.

Our students, our kids, are like weather barometers, they pick up on changing pressure, they brace for it, react to it, long before and after. Holiday stress, the traumatic effect ever changing staff in our building has on them, even the events happening in Ferguson. They aren’t over dramatic, or even in most cases unstable, they are teenagers and the students where I teach are incredibly empathic and caring and what they see around them impacts them deeply, in only a way a teen could feel. They also have very few coping mechanisms as of yet to deal with way more weight than most people ever do, and that is a fact, a cold hard fact, with the student population I teach. So whether they are going home to a complete shit show or not, they know someone who is, and this time of the year is the worst for them. There is nothing good about this time of year.

Except for, maybe, doing what little we can do to extend kindness and protect them.