Everyday Lives of Students

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.

4 thoughts on “Everyday Lives of Students

  1. So very sad. I struggled with similar situations while student teaching. How could I expect a student to keep up with the assigned reading or come to class with the needed supplies when he didn’t have a place to sleep at night and he came to class wearing the exact same clothes every day? No wonder students are failing.

  2. I truly believe that until our society comes to grips with the effects of poverty and trauma, our students will always struggle and lag behind their suburban counterparts despite all the educational jumping through hoops. Their struggles are not going to be resolved or revealed by more testing. It really is frustrating, isn’t it?

    Story #4 wasn’t told to me until the second day back from vacation: I now have a student living in an apartment without electricity. The children (3 of them) were disbursed to friends until Mom and Dad can get the electric bill paid. Imagine having to deal with that uncertainty, but being expected to perform in school as if nothing else is going on!

  3. How is your administration? Are they supportive of you? I, too, work in an urban school with kids whose conversations sound exactly like yours. Their lives are the ones that ARE the news. I ask because I am finding it difficult lately to keep up the spirit. I LOVE my children and I am there for THEM. Programs DO change so frequently we cannot reasonably determine if there were any successful components that worked for the learning of our students. Our administrator (principal) is sooooo critical of ALL of the teachers that we just question the reason why we are there now. Everything is always OUR fault. Our HOTS are not ‘good’ enough. We don’t have enough ‘rigor’ (we have National Board Teachers here) and veterans that really know their stuff. It is not a very encouraging atmosphere for the teachers and it’s killing my will to teach. How do you deal with that? Lately, I have to tell myself that I’m here for the children but even that is not enough. We can cut the tension with a knife simply from the negativeness of the administration. I am a union member (leader) but it takes too long to get rid of bad leadership. Don’t schools realize that to succeed, teachers must have leaders that believe in us? Good luck in your endeavors. I admire you for being able to get up everyday. I am slowing losing the will and trying to figure out how to get it back.

    1. I am truly fortunate to work with two administrators who not only “get it”, but get right there with us and teach. This feat is made more amazing by the fact that the school in which I work has over 500 high poverty, often traumatized students in it! It makes all the difference – an administrator who values the staff, compliments them, supports them – all of these things help me get right back in there and do what I can for my students.

      I feel your pain. Don’t give up, your students need a caring, compassionate professional like you. You will be the difference to more children than you can possibly imagine.


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