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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Place Of Respite In A Chaotic World

I was settling into the routine of the classroom as a student teacher on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  As much as I wanted to panic, I had to remain calm. One young woman chose to stay with me in the “quiet” room rather than watch the news because her mother worked for the Department of Defense and was in the Pentagon that day. It took seven days to find out her mother was alive and well.

I will never forget the intensity of that day and those that immediately followed. I learned that regardless of maturity level, the students still need me to set the emotional thermostat of the room. The content that I teach is important; the content of my character as a model for my students is more important. It wouldn't be right to say I find something to “love” in each of my high school students. For one thing, they can be annoying, egotistical, and confrontational. However, I believe my students need me to acknowledge their humanity while calmly leading our learning efforts.

I sometimes think of my students as characters in a novel; I am naturally drawn to the characters that experience the greatest change in personality, understanding, and/or disposition. Even my dependable, stable, and focused students are coping with the difficult transition from childhood to young adulthood. Some students have to deal with additional upheavals in their world as well; I am fascinated by the resiliency and drive of these students who must struggle. I know that I have something to learn in their successes and their failures.

At first it was a continual battle to get Steve to take off his hat, and when he took it off, the hat magically popped back on his head. As a “reader” of this character I inferred that the hat was about something more to him but I had to be careful not to jump to conclusions. Over a quarter we developed a good working relationship because I remained calm and took time to talk about his interests. He would take his hat off for me and take part in class.

When Steve's mother came in for parent teacher conferences she gave me more pieces of his story.  She started crying as she told me about how they had been homeless for the previous three months. Steve's hat, an adolescent version of a security blanket, was one of few things he owned.  Steve couldn't explain it to me; emotions are confusing like that. If I had yelled, written him up, sent him to the office, or in some other way broken our relationship over a ridiculous hat policy, he would have never worked for me again.  I would have crushed his already weak ego.

I am only part of a small segment of my students’ developmental journey. Often I am reminded that the goal is progress not perfection. My students appreciate having a calm, kind, and understanding person to turn to in their chaotic lives; for some, my classroom is the only respite they get from a noisy world that reduces them to a set of numbers.

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