This is the second post in a series of articles about the “Celebrations and Trials of a First-year Teacher.” (See the first post here.)

It became apparent to me very quickly that the scope of “teacher” expanded far beyond teaching. I also served as nurse, social worker, attendance police. And, occasionally, I was called mom or grandma… I could go on.

Put simply, I was more than a teacher, and my students were more than students. They were vibrant, curious, growing humans. But, in perspective, they were just little people in the midst of a very adult, dramatic world… in many cases having to care for their own siblings in ways that should never be asked of a second grader.  It sounds wild.  It is wild, and a bit disenchanting.  Kids in our schools live like this every day.  They are the most resilient beings I have ever known.

Observations in the Classroom

In the midst of my short first year (just 7  months):

  • more than half of my class turned over,
  • some new students came only for a few days,
  • some students were enrolled most of the year but showed up only sporadically,
  • some students fell asleep regularly when they were in class, and
  • some students were sent home due to chronic, severe lice.

And when the above students were in the classroom, they struggled to learn, share and deal with others–primarily because they had less experience than their peers who attended regularly.

Surprise? To me as a product of an involved, well-to-do, rural school district–yes, it was a surprise. But to the students at my school and so many others like it, this is a simple daily reality.

A Glimpse into their Home Life

All of the students are smart and capable! But often their home situations impacted their ability to be a student. In order to mitigate the impact of their home lives on the classroom, we focused on strategies to calm their rage or reign in their sadness. There were so many stories that brought about rage or sadness:

  • missing a parent they didn’t get to see often due to custody issues or due to an incarcerated parent,
  • dealing with less-than-savory babysitters,
  • too many relatives in their space,
  • feuding parents or extended family, and
  • immigrant parents incessantly working, often remotely, to reunite their family.

These circumstances are no fault of the student, but stick with them their whole day in the classroom. The students were just trying to cope, moment by moment, day by day.

Sometimes, They Were Just Gone

You’d think that when a kid is going to switch schools they’d get to say goodbye to their teacher and classmates.   More times than I care to recount, a student would say “Can I take my crayon box and notebooks, because I’m not coming back tomorrow?” or something along those lines. As a newbie, I’d think, “no way, they must just want to take their crayons home to color.”  Oh, no… they were serious.  They didn’t come back.  They were just gone.

The Most Challenging, the Most Disheartening

It didn’t take long at all for me to have to fulfill the duty of being a mandatory reporter to Child Protective Services (CPS).  My first year and, unfortunately, every subsequent year of my career as a teacher, I had to contact CPS for either suspicion of neglect and/or abuse of one of my students.  Every call was tough, but necessary. This emotional topic will be covered more in future blog posts…


As a first-year teacher, it was terribly difficult to see my kids dealing with all of these life challenges! How nice would it have been if their biggest worry each day was just whether or not the story book we chose that day was boring or not?

A Lesson for Teachers

If I had to offer advice to young, new teachers or any teacher moving into a challenging school, I would offer the following:

Be an advocate for every child, in and out of the classroom: Your students are relying on you to create an environment where they feel safe, open up, and explore. You must be brave and strong in stamping out every problem that prevents your students from excelling. Whether it’s bureaucracy in the school that isn’t serving a student’s needs fast enough or there’s a problem at home that is unfairly impacting the child, you must fight the battles they cannot.

Think outside the box and use every resource available: There are so many resources available to teachers, online, in your school and in your community. You cannot stop serving students at the door to your classroom! You must ensure the students (and their parents, ideally) talk to the specialists, visit the counselor, and know the resources in the community that can help them get through whatever is troubling them.

And, though it may seem off-topic… Never take your own blessings for granted: Instead, recognize your blessings, pray them upon your students and their families, and know that you can help them to realize a life as blessed as yours if you stay aware, caring, and vigilant!

 

You might change your students’ lives… not by a lesson you taught them at the chalkboard, but by allowing them to go home feeling safe and confident!