On the last day of school teachers say goodbye to each other and to their students, some students cry, as do some teachers. Teachers make dozens of decisions impacting the lives of their students each day. Many teachers spend more time with their students than their parents. For the babies, teacher oft times know more about the lives of their kids than they might want to know.
“Why do you look so sad?”
“My daddy hits my mommy and she cries.”
What do you do? Call the Child Abuse Hot Line? Tell the guidance counselor? Tell the principal? What will happen? Will the youngster be pulled from their home and placed in a foster home? What’s best for the child?
“Teacher, can I have more food, we don’t have money to buy food?”
Food insecurity is commonplace, families hanging on the edge; do they pay rent or buy food?
Kids coming to school with flimsy clothes in the winter; what can I do?
A new kid shows up from Guatemala. Should be easy, the bi-lingual teacher can ask the kid a few questions: the bilingual teacher says the kid doesn’t speak Spanish, she speaks an Indian dialect . How can I communicate with the student?
Preteens have fragile egos: “She said I’m fat, ugly, etc.,” and bursts into tears. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media platforms dominate the preteen lives. One kid threatens another, you call a parent: “Yes, I told my son if anyone lays hands on him to fight back.” I tell the parent there are other solutions, she says, “You don’t live in Brownsville; if you don’t fight back you don’t survive.”
High school kids may have poor attendance, and may also work full time jobs in addition to school, a few are parents, involved in gang cultures, or just don’t seem to care. How do you “turn on the lightbulb” before it’s too late?
Do we know how we impact kid’s lives?
In my union role I was visiting a school, the assistant principal called me aside; his daughter was in my class, to thank me profusely for the help I gave his daughter when she was going through “a difficult time.” The problem: I had no idea what I did; we rarely know the impact of our actions.
A student asked to meet with me “in private.” She appeared quite upset, I was unprepared for her question, “Mr. G, how do I know if I’m in love?”
Not exactly what I expected; I took out a sheet of paper, drew a line down the middle and across the top, in one column I wrote “love” and “lust” in the other.
“In each column write a few words and then write an essay comparing and contrasting the words in the two columns. I told her, “It won’t impact your grade.”
She looked at me quizzically and departed and never submitted the essay and I never asked for it.
About five or so years later I was at an alumni event in my school and a young woman comes up to me,
“Remember me Mr. G?” Before I could say, not really, she said, “I had that ‘love/lust’ problem.”
“Of course, did you ever write the essay?”
She laughed, “A really, really tough assignment, I’m still working on it, it kept me out of lot of trouble.”
One of my former students occasionally pops up on my Facebook page, a few months ago in a post he wrote, “When I was in Mr. G’s class he taught me,” and he went on to rail against Trump.
On that last day some teachers are off for a few days and back for teaching summer school: have to pay off those student loans, take courses for a Masters, for license certifications, or to pay for camp for their own kids.
Summer was a time to decompress,
Back in the day really, really inexpensive charter flights on Air Obscure, flew “over the pond.” Some of us packed a knapsack with passport, U-Rail Pass and a list of Youth Hostels and traipsed across Europe.
One summer we exchanged our apartment with a French family and lived in Paris, registered our son at a neighborhood recreation center, no cost, Socialism is wonderful. He made the Center soccer team and played in the citywide tournament; probably had more impact on Franco-American relations than diplomats.
Today teachers tell me everybody has to fight back. “The parents of my kids are fighting to keep their heads above water; I have to fight for them.”
Retired teachers say, “I demonstrated in the sixties, antiwar rallies, freedom rides to the Deep South, I went on strike, I never thought I’d have to become an activist again.”
Teachers are role models, instructors, counselors, leaders, therapists, mediators and in the last two years political activists.
Next week 3,000 elected teacher delegates will convene in Pittsburgh for the biannual American Federation of Teachers convention.
The delegates will debate ninety resolutions, listen to a range of speakers, some electeds, some candidates, other education leaders, and organize for the November 2018 midterms.
I’ll be wearing my “Union Proud: I’m Sticking with my Union” shirt.
Will also be blogging and tweeting from the convention: stay tuned.