Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Hard-Knock Life

Teachers help students.  It is what we do.  It’s the name of the teaching game.  It starts early.  Pre-K and kindergarten teachers zip jackets, open milk cartons and put students on the reading path.  High school teachers help with college entrance essays, graduation requirements and handling the increasing responsibilities of life.  But do we help every student?  

Of course!  That’s the quick answer.  In a perfect world, every teacher would help every student.  But in reality, some students fall through the cracks.  That sounds harsh.  No teacher intentionally ignores a kid’s need.  By nature, most teachers are caring and nurturing people.  It’s part of what draws them to the job of working with children day in and day out.  It’s what keeps them coming back year after year.  So who do we miss?  Sometimes it’s the kid that needs us the most.

I can only imagine what the teacher must have thought when Hannah walked into her first grade classroom.  I would guess it was something along the lines of, “What an adorable, little redhead.”  At the end of the day that line of thinking had probably changed to something more like, “Where did this monster come from?”  Hannah was one of those students who fell through the cracks. 

Hannah is my oldest daughter.  She is a wonderful student now, attentive and helpful.  It didn’t come easy.  It was a long fought battle.  It was worth every minute of blood, sweat and tears (and there were a lot of them!).  When I signed on to adopt Hannah I was naive.  I thought I knew what I was getting myself into.  I had great intentions.  I was providing a home for a little girl who needed one.  I’m sure she will be excited to have a forever family to call her own.  There was going to be love and joy, peace and harmony everyday as she learned what family was all about. 

Then Hannah came through my door.  Where was my peace and harmony?  There was no sunshine and rainbows.  It was more like darkness and a tornado.  What I had expected is not what I got.  Looking back, what I got was better.  Did it feel like it at the time?  No, nope, and not at all!  What turned my outlook around?  God did.  I had wanted to do something easy and get great rewards from it.  But when does that ever happen?  Do easy things bring satisfaction?  Not usually.  Think of your finest accomplishments in life.  Were they easy or did they take a lot of work?  Graduating from college, getting married, raising children, all these require a tremendous amount of dedication and old-fashioned hard work.  How many teachers out there would say their first year of teaching was a walk in the park?  My guess is none.  We all know what it takes to get through that first year (and every year after that!).  But do we hold onto the memories of the work or do we focus on the satisfaction of a job well done?  I get to relish in that satisfaction every single day.  Was it hard?  Yes, incredibly.  Did it feel like it lasted a lifetime?  Yes, fourteen lifetimes.  Would I do it again?  Yes, a million times, yes!

So how does hard work and satisfaction relate to a six year old foster kid named Hannah in a first grade classroom?  Stay with me for a minute.  Hannah had been passed from place to place in her short little life.  She had been missing something very important in raising and teaching children:  consistency.  Hannah had learned that when people felt sorry for her, they lowered their expectations of her.  It’s easy to do.  I’ve done it (still do sometimes).  But it’s not helpful.  Allowing her academics and behavior to deteriorate because of her life circumstances didn’t make those circumstances any better.  How many times, in order to make it through the day, have we given in?  Our follow-through didn’t follow-through.  Our “no” actually turned into a “yes”.  Like I said, I’ve been there.  I’ve done it.  And then I learned it only made things worse.

Hannah needed consistency.  She needed to be held to a standard.  Was she going to blow it again?  Absolutely, probably a hundred more times that day.  Did the answer need to be consistent when she did?  Yes.  There is safety and security in knowing there are absolutes.  Hannah needed that security because the rest of her life was so uncertain.  You might be thinking this sounds a little harsh.  Consistent doesn't have to walk hand and hand with harshness.  Did we use a calm voice?  Did we choose kind words?  Did we keep our answer consistent?  

In the beginning I had to say the same things over and over and over again.  It was frustrating and often my words and voice showed it.  I have learned over time that my angry response is not what changed her behavior; it was the consistency of my response that turned the tide.

Think about that student that brings you daily to the brink of frustration.  Is your response consistent every time or do you start off strong in the morning and wear down by the end of the day?  Does a student’s hard-knock story pull on your heartstrings to the point of allowing behavior that won’t be best for them in the long run?  I know it’s easier said than done, but stay strong.  Keep your voice pleasant and your answer firm.  If you have to correct the exact same behavior forty seven times today try to sound just as patient on correction number 47 as you did on number 1.  Hannah needed it.  They all do.

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