So this teacher gave her kids an assignment: Complete the sentence, “I wish my teacher knew…” And then she posted their responses on social media. And then the #iwishmyteacherknew happened. And then the whole internet broke.
And on the one hand, this is super cool. People need to know that kids deal with a lot more than we are aware.
On the other hand, duh! Which I don’t mean to be disrespectful at all. This teacher, like many other teachers, was undoubtedly taught this in college, learned this during her internship, and that’s why she gave the assignment in the first place. Teachers are acutely aware of their students’ needs, in and beyond the classroom. And I want to make sure that the rest of the world doesn’t get confused and think that any of this is news to us. It’s news to state governments, I’m sure. But not to teachers.
So what do you do when your heart is breaking for your child? I came up with some things, though this is by no means a comprehensive list. This is just a list of things that have worked well with my kids, some of the time.
1) Give them space.
Depending on the kid, maybe all they need is a little time to themselves. I had a kid who usually performs quite well recently bomb a test. It really surprised me, so I asked him what was up. And he started telling me about his crazy morning that day. I know he has a very intense home life, but he usually copes quite well, so I usually leave it alone. This test score told me he wasn’t coping quite as well as I hoped or thought he was. So I suggested he maybe spend some time to himself first thing in the morning, every day. He really liked this idea as he shares a bedroom with 3 other boys. So every morning, he comes in, goes straight into the little office attached to the classroom and comes out 5 minutes later completely refreshed and ready for the day. Behavior incidents are down. Wham bam!
2) Enlist the help of a friend.
The truth of the matter is… you’ve got 20+ other kids you need to worry about. And the relatively petty concern of this child (i.e., “he wasn’t taking it easy on me in soccer”) is not really going to be your top priority. It can’t be. And that’s ok. As long as you recognize that it is this child’s top priority. So find somebody who can also make it a top priority: a friend. Bonus points: you also get to help the helper learn how to help a friend. 2 birds, 1 stone.
3) Accept the explanation without letting it become an excuse.
Kids lead very crazy lives. I know. But if you accept those crazy lives as excuses not to succeed, the child will never succeed. And that kid needs to understand that reality. So when a kid tells you they didn’t do their homework because they went to the hospital and a whole lot of other drama mumbled through tears… Let the kid know you’re there for them. But then also work with the child to figure out how they could complete their homework anyway, because school is how they’re going to rise above their circumstances.
But then also, give them assignments that they can complete within the context of their crazy lives. A reading log that needs to be signed by a parent? Let’s get real. Anything they need help on? Let’s pass. A few simple math problems (some word, some just calculations) to let you know if they got what was in the lesson. Some time reading (and this might mean loaning them a book from your classroom library because they don’t have any) and a very simple summary to prove the did it. These things teach responsibility, but also allow for kids with very hectic lives outside of school to still be successful. And then sometimes, maybe you should just “forget” to put the kid’s name on your no homework list that day.
4) Be an advocate for the child.
Some older kids were passing my kids in the hall, laughing and pushing each other right into my line, knocking down some of my kids. And, I’m not altogether proud to admit it, but I lost my cool. I laid into those kids, and when they walked away, they must have thought I was absolutely bonkers. But my kids learned something that day: I am a fierce mama bear who will protect my cubs. One of them even mentioned it to me later. And when a kid doesn’t have anybody to advocate for them, we absolutely need to.
If they need shoes, make sure they get shoes. If their parent won’t wake them up in the morning and get them ready and on the bus, buy them an alarm clock. A kid is constantly bullying them on the bus? Ride it with them. I watched a teacher at my school spend a tremendous amount of her own time (and she’s a single mom!) to help raise money for one of her students to get a service dog to help with her disability. Most kids don’t need us to do that sort of stuff, but it means the world when it is needed and we do. Kids need to know they can count on us. And truthfully, being someone they count on is usually barely more what we were going to do anyway.