More Thoughts on ‘So This Happened Today’

This post generated a bit of conversation and some considered opinions were expressed.  I feel compelled to flesh out the situation a bit more.  While I didn’t know the little dudes involved in this specific incident, I’ve been doing this a while and I have some guesses about the anger displayed.   

First, a little data.  What are we educators without our data?  As mentioned in the About section of this blog, I teach at a K-5 Title I school.  This designation is given to a school wherein at least 40% of its population is from low-income families, as defined by the U.S. Census.  The designation comes with some funding and lots of mandates, which is not my focus right now.

Our school has over 700 students.  In addition to our ‘regular’ classrooms, we have several EBD classes, that is, Emotional Behavioral Disorder.  We have kids who wear ankle monitors mandated by the courts (remember, this is K-5).   According to the most recent statistics from the state Department of Education website, 94% of students at our school come from low-income families.  It also says that 94% of our students are considered minorities.  There are studies showing that statistically, these students begin kindergarten two years behind their counterparts at more affluent schools.  I heard an employee at our school remark once that she didn’t teach her child to write her name, her letters, or her numbers.  “That’s the teacher’s job,” she commented.

Here’s what the data doesn’t show.  Many of our students come from homes where violence, crime, neglect, addiction, and abuse are the norm.   There are kids in every classroom who have significant adults in their lives who are incarcerated for violent crimes.  I once had a student whose older brother was in prison for murder.  He’d killed their father.  There are kids in every classroom who know someone who died violently.  Drive-by and revenge shootings are commonplace in the neighborhoods where these babies have to go home every afternoon.  The parents who care don’t allow the kids to play outside. 

Then there are the parent who don’t care.  It’s business as usual for parents to give false phone numbers to the school.  They don’t want to hear from the teachers or administrators.  Which is all well and good until you have a kid in the clinic who needs to be transported to the hospital and you can’t get in touch with a parent.  Some parents seem to fear that their children will do better than they did, and these parents actually give their kids a hard time about doing homework or behaving in school.  You can’t make that up.

Our students worry about things that would never cross the mind of the average kid in a ‘white-bread’ school.  For example, I read aloud a Junie B. Jones story where she got locked in the school and called 911.  One of my friends observed, “She’s gonna go into foster care,” shaking her head sadly. 

Another kid was worried that mom was going to go to jail for leaving her and her siblings home alone.  Why was she worried about that?  Because that’s what the cops threatened last time they were called out to the home. 

I have found myself normalizing unacceptable situations.  “You’re going to out of town to visit your dad in prison?  Awesome!”  “Your daddy’s dead?  I’m so sorry.  Let’s try to work on our math now.”

So they come to us tired.  When dad and his homies are up all night with their dog-fighting, it’s hard to sleep.  They come to us hungry.  Last year, one little girl wrote very matter-of-factly in her journal that over the weekend they’d eaten popcorn and watermelon because “we didn’t have any food.”  We feed every kid free breakfast and most kids free lunch every school day, but there are those pesky Saturdays and Sundays.  Every so often we send home a bag of food with each kid, provided by some ‘feed kids’ charity. 

And they come to us angry, emulating behavior they see modeled by the grown-ups in their world.  Several years ago, an intermediate student began organizing fights for money.  She’d arrange fights, sell tickets, and take bets on who would win.  Enterprising and exceedingly scary, all at the same time.  A bit of insight into the culture tells us that power is the ultimate necessity.  Vengeance must be had or one is considered weak.  I once removed a sharp kitchen knife from a first grader.  “I wasn’t really going to use it,” he told me. 

So when little headbanger assumed that someone was looking at him wrong, he flew into a rage.  I’d be hard-put to place the blame on the teacher or the school culture for his outburst.  He came to us like an angry knot.  Somehow, we’re supposed to unravel him. 

It’s a complex problem to which there is no simple answer.  To propose otherwise is both elitist and naive.  I’m not Miss Beadle.