"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.