Monday was our first day back from Winter Break — I suspect this is only a New England school vacation as I never experienced it growing up in northern Ohio. A week-long escape is a welcome respite from the stresses of teaching – and yes, I am aware that I chose this profession – but it also serves to highlight the stress of teaching students in urban education.
Our Monday morning meeting brought forward three stories from my 8- and 9-year old students. Stories that are told in such a conversational way that they seem as normal as a visit to grandma’s. Again, Ruth Payne’s fine chronicle of trauma and poverty, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, helps me to see the events outside of my middle-class white Leave It To Beaver upbringing. For these children, life is what it is.
Story number 1: “my cousin was arrested with his pit bull.” Now sometimes “arrested” takes on a rather broad definition in the mind of an 8-year old. In this case it was true; I verified it by reading the local newspaper online after school: the cousin had been taken into custody after allowing his unleashed and unrestrained pit bull to lunge at people walking in the downtown area, had refused the request of a police officer to leash the dog, and resisted arrest.
Story number 2: brother – who the student had recently revealed was in jail – was rearrested. This student reported on the event as if it were an everyday normal occurrence.” Had I seen X’s name in the paper? He’s going to jail.”
Story number 3: a tenant living in the same apartment complex as my third student triggered the SWAT team to swarm the building after said tenant threatened a cab driver with a gun. The student had lots of details and had obviously seen most of the confrontation – her details matched the newspaper article too.
Now several things come to mind here. First of all, the traumatic distractions in these students’ every day life are unbelievable. Secondly, yes school is a “safe place” and expectations for what happens in school remain high. But the distractions and worries these children must overcome to even be close to ready to focus and concentrate are, most of the time, unimaginable.
This is what stresses out urban teachers. We come to know the human story, the reality these children deal with.