To anyone who thinks teaching is all about... well, teaching: here's the social worker/counselor part of my job. This is an extreme class, as I was the only returning third grade teacher and no one was sure if the other ones could handle the "challenges." But still...
AD: A beautiful little girl whose mother left her when she was a baby. She's being raised by her grandmother and great grandmother. She is one of the meanest little girls I have ever met because she's so miserable. She tells me approximately 17 times a day that she hates herself or that she wants to die. Sometimes she just falls on the floor crying because she is so overwhelmed. We've started a journal where she can write to me and I write back and that seems to help some - she partly just wants to be heard. The kids have started telling her when she is nice to them, which is great positive reinforcement. When I told her grandmother that she seemed sad and I needed to schedule a conference, her grandmother told me that she better not hear that come out of my mouth again or else, "I'm just fenna go straight off and you better have some people to protect you!"
AS: Recently became homeless and is so angry and worried that he is a constant problem and an explosion waiting to happen. He also tells me routinely that he wants to die, asks me to kill him please because he hates his life. His dad threatened to set him on fire but then said he was just kidding. This child is very very intelligent, and the smartest kids can definitely be the biggest problems if they choose to. He also has a notebook to write in. Sometimes it works and sometimes he still explodes and often takes the rest of the class down with him.
ST: Doing much much better! But at the beginning of the year, his line was, "You don't even want me in your class because I don't deserve to be in third grade." He had a thing about having had to repeat first grade and told me every day that it was proof that he was stupid.... until I told him that his epal had to repeat kindergarten and is now one of the most educated people I know. His dad just came home after being gone for 9 months. When I asked him where he was, he said "out of town." It was jail.
RT: A brand new student, so I don't know his story but he refuses to do ANYTHING, although he knows how. He just sits there and smirks. ALL DAY. I personally would think it would get a little boring, but he apparently disagrees.
SH: Officially classified as SED (Severely Emotionally Disturbed), she is in a "normal" class only because there's no room in the appropriate classes. She is often a very sweet girl (albeit with some severe learning problems) who talks about how much she loves me, her family, and her bunny. She's doing a little better now with using her words to express her frustration, but many times she still has meltdowns. And I mean MELTDOWNS. (The pictures at the top are of her handiwork). She rips posters off the wall, rips them in half, trashes desks, dumps books out of bookshelves, tries to stab people with scissors, and if it happens, the rest of the day is shot.
------------------------------------------------------------------------Most of the kids have seen someone killed - whether it be a neighbor, friend, or relative. Most have had a family member in jail at some point - usually for drugs, sometimes for armed robbery or assault (or occasionally attempted murder or murder). I have had kids stay up all night because there were gunshots and they were scared. Or sometimes they sleep in the bathtub or the closet, because there's more barriers for the bullet to go through. I got a note once from a parent saying, "My child did not do her homework because the gangs was shooting and we was in the bathtub." Another child saw her grown cousin shot in the face and came to school the next day. She didn't stop shaking all week and at that point there were no counseling resources and of course her family couldn't help her as they were going through the same thing. Another child saw her father shot in the head when she was 6 years old - drug deal gone bad.
None of this stuff is in my job description, and much of it I can't even imagine dealing with at that age. And if I'm observed dealing with any of this and not actually teaching, I can be reprimanded for not helping our children to meet their academic standards. Can't change the schedule or the topic to deal with this, can't take class time to talk about their feelings, and if I have to call Social Services on a kid for abuse or neglect, the child usually ends up getting beat at home for telling other people the family business.
Add to all this trauma the fact that many kids come to school hungry, exhausted, in charge of themselves and their younger siblings from the time they're in kindergarten, and you can see some of the reasons we're what the President calls a "failing" school. (There are many other reasons that I will get into later). No matter if they're suffering from malnutrition, fetal alcohol syndrome, neglect, abuse, PTSD, if they speak English, if their parents are illiterate... I'd damn well better be sure they learn their parts of speech quickly or the president will impose sanctions (no kidding) or close our school. Because we wouldn't want to leave any child behind now, would we??