My motivation for today’s post came from a Facebook message I saw recently. Someone had posted this quote from Robert John Meehan:
“Almost every student you meet may be fighting a battle you know nothing about. stop. think. then make your response accordingly.”
It reminded me of something that happened many years ago. As I walked into my neighbour’s Grade 1 classroom one morning, there was a group of boys near the door and when one of them saw me, he called out, “Guess what, Mrs. Larson! ‘Johnny’s’ Dad is going to kill his Mom!’ It still gives me goosebumps! Apparently, Dad had called the home the night before and threatened the Mother, with all the children listening. We got the appropriate people involved and put supports in place but it truly hit home to me the social/emotional problems children can bring to school – I will never forget that morning. I can’t begin to imagine what must have been going on in those children’s minds.
Another story – it was in my first year of teaching in East End Vancouver. A Mom arrived for our first interview with a picture in hand, ever so proud to show me the rest of the family. I was quite speechless, tho, when she very nonchalantly pointed out her black eye, sharing the details of the fight between her and her husband and him throwing something at her. This was ‘normal’ behaviour in their home, again, with the children present.
And we expect them to sit in a chair, pay attention, get their work done and behave appropriately.
While we, as teachers, have little control over what happens away from school, here are just a few of the things we can do at school to support our students:
1. During the first month of school, have a ‘get to know each other’ lunch date with each student. Ask students about family, pets, favourite things, special events, friends, etc and record on a form. Let them ask you questions. This can go a long way toward establishing that ‘comfort zone’ where a child feels they can come to you with a problem.
2. Have your librarian develop a list of books that deal with problems children can encounter and share these regularly during story time. Discuss afterward.
3. Invite your school counsellor in to do a series of sessions on social/emotional issues.
4. If your school isn’t already doing this, approach your administrator about establishing an anti-bullying program at your school.
5. Communicate regularly with parents.
6. Listen to your students.
Unfortunately, many children will not disclose these sorts of issues at school, silently sitting in pain (or perhaps not so silently, if it starts to manifest as improper behaviour). Teachers, therefore, need to be observant of changes in behaviour that could indicate a child is troubled. These could include moodiness, withdrawal, aggression, anger, sadness/tears, clinging to staff, not wanting to go out for breaks, absenteeism and physical complaints, to name just some. If you are consistently observing any of these behaviour changes in a student, it could indicate that something is going on in their life that’s upsetting them. Ask parents if something has happened/changed at home that could be the cause and have a private time with the student to see if they can identify the reason for their behaviour change. Perhaps start with “I’ve noticed you’re _____ lately. Is there something I might be able to help you with?” Let them know you are there to support them, not get them in trouble.
Keep that quote in mind. We just never know what could be going on in a child’s life. Provide your students with opportunities to share their worries. If they feel safe coming to us, then we can do what is needed to put the supports in place to help them.