Thursday, February 08, 2007

My Mom's Dead

"Mr. Landry, I have this string hanging off of my pants, what should I do about it?" said Aina

"Well, Aina, I think you should probably ask your mom to cut it off for you when you get home," I replied.

"My mom's dead," he retorted, in a subtle, matter-of-fact way.

"Oh," looooong pause, "well then I'll cut it off for you. When did your mom die, Aina?"

"She died last May. She got really sick and died. It makes me sad," he said.

Aaaahhh! No teacher training prepares you for that. I'm usually really careful when referencing people at home, because so few of my students live in a traditional family. I usually say, "Take this home to your mom, dad, grandma, auntie." A few of my kids have one parent in jail - one for murder this past September, and many of the rest live with an auntie or grandparent. Most of the rest live in modest housing with extended family. It's not uncommon to have 15-20 family members living in a 3-bedroom house.

Part of me wonders if it would be better if I didn't know any of this, if my expectations should be universal, left unhindered by the details of my kids' lives outside of the classroom. I worry because you can't help but soften your perspective when confronted with the reality of their daily struggles, but it scares me to think that in some way, on some level my expectations for them might be lowered as a result.

What I strive for, above all else, is a safe harbor my students, and I feel that I've been able to provide that. Knowing the challenges facing my kids helps put what I'm doing into perspective, and keeps me in check on a lot of levels. I won't say that what my 8 and 9 year-olds go through isn't fair, but my aching heart is repaired when I catch a worry-free glean of contentedness when they're in my classroom.

2 comments:

Marvin Owen said...

Jake, that is a touching story. My limited exposure to the world of children was coaching girl's softball. When I started coaching I use to provide the parents a team roster with parent names so the families could get to know each other. I quickly learned that the majority of the children were from non-traditional households and I was better off not trying to list parent names.

My one true shocker was seeing the pictures of both parents of a player in the paper for a drug arrest. The little girl and the parents still showed up for the game that week. Maybe softball was the child's safe habor.

RICHARD said...

Jake,

I don't know if I told you yet, but I just got non-renewed in California. I don't mind, because with what I consider the foolishness of "No Child Left Behind", I am not teaching the whole child. And I am glad to be free of the insanity.

When you were my student in Bremerton, I was permitted to teach a the whole person. "I teach children, not academic subjects" was my banner. As "No Child Left Behind" has coerced me into solely teaching isolated academic tasks, and with nothing else I do well is valued and is considered a "waste of instructional time", I am glad that I am now allowed to turn the helm over to someone as good and generous as you.