I once worked for a principal who always said,
"They don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care."
Do your students know how much you care?
As I read this post over at Four o'Clock Faculty, I realized that I am not alone in this struggle to make everyone remember that empathy is important in this business. The post uses John Acuff's explanation of empathy as “understanding someone else’s needs and acting on them.”
These past few weeks have been tumultuous around here. In a week and a half, this community has experienced a multitude of shootings, three murders, and a child abduction. As adults, we have been shocked. Has anyone asked how all of this impacts our students?
When that five-year old girl girl was snatched from her driveway and found chained to a tree the next day, I heard adults discussing what happened that morning as the authorities were searching for this girl. I asked them, "What about her classmates?" No one had thought about how this might be impacting their performance in a classroom. WE WORK IN EDUCATION - yet no one thought about this.
I ran into an old friend the other morning as we both dropped our kids off at school. She also happens to be a teacher - a GREAT teacher. She's the teacher that other teachers send kids to when they need a "change of scenery" for behavior reasons. She was commenting about how difficult the last few days had been. Her students were acting out more than usual and she even had to send some to the office - which she almost NEVER has to do. I casually remarked, "I wonder if it has anything to do with the two murders in their community this week." It was like a light bulb turned on. She hadn't made the connection. The gang violence in her school community had reached an all time high recently which was adding to the unrest and resulting in these shootings. In her defense, things had been busy at her school as they were busy preparing for intersession and then there is the fact that she doesn't live in the community.
How did I know all of this was going on? No, I don't live in the community affected by the violence and gang activity, but the father of my children is a law enforcement officer. Every night my daughter asks, "Is dad safe?" before she goes to bed. Some nights she insists on calling or texting him. Her father is gone a lot. Some nights, the only time the kids see their dad is on the news in the background as the violence is covered by the media. Some nights, they can't sleep, which means I can't either. News coverage of violence against law enforcement officers has us on edge, too. Does this impact their performance at school? Absolutely! Does anyone that teaches them (this year) think about that? I can't say that they do, but it's likely that they don't.
Perhaps it's because they don't act out at school and they still manage to get their work done. Or is it because they are white. Maybe it's because they don't live in a community in turmoil. Or it might just be that we, as educators, don't always stop and ask ourselves why a kid - ANY kid - might be sullen, angry, or not doing their work. In retrospect, I probably was guilty of this, too.
We as educators are in the best place to make a difference in a student's life. At any stage of their education. It's never "too late" and no student is incapable of learning. We just need to take the time - which I know we don't have a lot of - and try to understand them and help them learn where they are.
We can make a difference.