In the last two days, I’ve attended three staff trainings that have rattled my teacher’s heart. Human trafficking, suicide prevention, and educating students of childhood trauma. Next week, I’ll sit through some drug awareness training.
The world of public education has changed dramatically in the last few years. Not because the world has changed that much, but because education has quit burying it’s head in the sand.
Used to be, we’d pretend problems like this didn’t exist. Or that they happened in other places. Not our town, not our school, not our student body.
Well, it’s high time we quit saving face and save some lives instead.
Yesterday, I learned from a social worker about girls from our school. Girls who sat in our seats, walked in our halls, and cried in our stalls. Girls who were sold by their mothers, raped by their fathers, enslaved by their friends. Girls who got in debt with their drug dealers and got in bed with strangers. Girls who went to school all day every day, then went home to be raped all night every night by multiple men.
The stories rattled me. My stomach hurt.
The second social worker of the day then told us about the suicide statistics in our community. Our school system is definitely no stranger to suicide. The last couple of years alone, we’ve lost students and former students. But the epidemic is far from over. We heard about high schoolers, middle schoolers, elementary and even primary-aged schoolers battling severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
The stories rattled me. My heart hurt.
And then today, I attended a conference led by Mississippi teacher Donna Porter and her former student (and gang leader), DJ Batiste. They spoke on creating a culture and climate in the classroom to best serve students who have survived childhood trauma. Trauma like gang violence, child abuse, rape, suicidal thoughts, parental addictions, extreme poverty… to name a few.
There’s a lot of heavy words surrounding these kids molded from trauma, but the word I need to focus on is SERVE.
As a teacher, I have been called to serve kids. I believe it with all my heart. All kids. Even the hard kids. Especially the hard kids. Because nobody else is.
We are their last resort.
But everything about these hard kids is… Hard. They push. They challenge. They try. They drain. They do all the things. All of them. To you.
Because they’re good at it and they know it. They don’t think they can do much of anything else in life, but they know they’re good at that.
So they push you, challenge you, try you, drain you.
But the message today was, never let ’em see you sweat. Instead let them see you care. Find a way to diffuse them and enthuse them. Give them purpose, give them power, give them love.
I have always tried to give my students love. Always. And when they are hard to love, I work even harder than they are to find a way.
But I never thought of giving them purpose and power. At least not beyond giving them an education. Education brings purpose and power, right? That’s what I always assumed. I assumed wrong.
I learned today, that for these kids Reputation is far more important than Education. They would rather buck up and be abrasive than be vulnerable and be saved — even though they want to be saved. They really, really do.
So I’ve got to make a paradigm shift. In them, yes. But also in me.
I’ve got to check my ego and remember it’s not all about me. In fact, with these kids of trauma, it’s got nothing to do with me at all… and everything to do with them. They are hurting. And they need someone to show them there’s hope out there. Hope beyond the hurt. Hope in spite of the hurt.
And I’m not going to get there by teaching them sonnets and syntax. I’m only going to get there by showing them they matter; they have purpose. By teaching the human. Not the subject.
And I need to shift another way, too. Inside our classroom. (Not my classroom, which is how, I have to confess, I’ve always thought of it, but OUR classroom.) And I can make it ours by something as simple as creating jobs. Creating roles for my students. Things like taking attendance, leading the warm up, closing the lesson. Jobs that will take some responsibility off me, and give my students some purpose. A way to take ownership.
Elementary teachers do it all the time. They have line leaders and door holders and electricity technicians. But high school teachers? I hadn’t seen it in action in all my years of teaching.
But it makes sense. Giving students like these — students with no control over their home-life, their pasts, or their present situation — giving them some power, no matter how small, can be incredibly meaningful and incredibly magical.
Honoring students with purpose. Giving students power. It can turn a life around. Truly. So their paradigm shifts. So Education becomes more important than Reputation.
I learned a lot today about guiding students with love and honoring students with purpose. Giving honor, not rewards, brings value and hope into these kids’ lives, DJ explained. “Don’t give students something they can touch. Give them something they can feel.’
My heart rattled one more time. This time, it was my paradigm shifting.