During these trying times in the world of education, we teachers will grab hold of most anything for hope. For instance, there is something grand in feeling smarter than your students. It gives us the small dose of pride we need sometimes to make it through a rough school year and a wonderful feeling in the midst of battling defiance and apathy within our students.
The other day in class a group of my seniors were huddled together working on something. I asked if they needed any help, and they affirmed. One said, “You know anything about statistical finance, Ms. Green?”
Well, to demonstrate my intellectual girth, I meandered on over, ignoring the word statistical because I can barely say it, much less work problems in it. I leaned in to see the issue at hand. In my mind, I thought, “It’s finance. How hard can balancing a checkbook be? I do it all the time.” What I saw in the midst of the huddled masses was unlike anything I have ever seen before. It certainly did not look like a check registry. I think it may have even been a foreign language. All of a sudden, I remembered I had an important email to return, so I scurried away trying desperately to hold my reputation intact.
The lesson to be learned is simple: You can’t teach what you don’t know. There is no way I could ever effectively teach my students to solve a problem in statistical finance. I haven’t a clue about it. I do, however, know a great deal about American literature, so I should stick to that niche in instruction.
The same concept applies to acceptance, support, encouragement and love. I saw the realities of such just recently.
Rachel was a beautiful, talented teenager. She loved to write and draw and take care of small animals with an impressive love and devotion. As a child, however, Rachel never received lessons in love from her parents. She grew up in a home of dysfunction where acceptance and support were withdrawn and absent. Avoidance and emotional distance were all she learned from her earliest of teachers – her parents.
Scars like hers are deep-rooted. Sometimes they never heal, and in Rachel’s young life, they proved too powerful. She fell victim to suicide.
We may shed a tear and comment, “What a shame. She was so beautiful and talented.” We embrace the family and listen to the only words they can mutter, “At least she is finally at peace.” As a member of the teaching community, I was profoundly touched by Rachel’s story, knowing full well that there was a school teacher in her life somewhere at some time who tried desperately to fill that void. But this horrible ending happens much too often, and I would fail young Rachel and her family if I didn’t learn something from the tragedy.
I learned that I may honestly be the only lesson of love some of my students may ever see. The words from my mouth may be the only encouragement my students have ever heard. My pat on the back could be the only warm touch a child in my class has ever felt. What remarkable opportunity to cease the roller coaster in their minds racing between utter despair and depression. Love and acceptance can look as simple as that.
You cannot teach what you do not know. So, teachers, it is imperative that we learn love for our students. That we teach ourselves of their merit. That we tutor ourselves not on what they cannot do or how they behave, but on what they need as a human being. And sometimes it is the simplest yet most important lesson of all … love of self.
I hear the argument all the time, spoken in frustration most often: Teachers are raising our children. We have to teach them much more than simple reading, writing and arithmetic. The fact of the matter is, we do. Times have changed since I was in school. Simple as that. So, either we change with it, or we move on to something else, but there are kids dying. There are kids sinking in despair because the dysfunction of their houses has infiltrated their very souls and created a mindset of despair.
And, we are the only lifeline they have. If that’s not a reason to wake up every day and walk into your classroom, I don’t know what is. Speak life. Speak love. Speak acceptance and confidence into your students. Do it for all the Rachels sitting in your desks — the quiet ones who hide depression well. The popular ones who hide it even better. Teach what you know — love.