Most people I've talked to about my experience teaching are aware that fathers, especially nurturing, consistent fathers, are rare in the inner city. Not as many people are aware of how many children lack mothers. For some of them, I mean that metaphorically -- that their mothers were 13 or 14 when they had kids and just didn't know how to be mothers. However, for many of them, this lack of a mother was literal.
One year ago: The Problem With Mother's Day
I had student after student being raised by an aunt, a grandmother, a great-aunt, an older sister, or even a great-grandmother. This could be because their mother had a drug problem, was in jail, was with a boyfriend or new husband who didn't want their children around, or had left them for an unknown reason. Now, I'm not saying that the lack of a father is something that's easy to get over. I think it is extremely damaging and that children need fathers or father figures. But, in my experience, the kids whose mothers left them were in the worst shape. It seems like there's nothing that can mess you up like your mother walking out when you are two months old.
Because of this, Mother's Day was always an issue. The first year, I didn't do much for Mother's Day - mostly because I forgot about it. The second year, it quickly became apparent that there was going to be a problem. One of the kids had a mother in prison and was really upset about it. (And really, that is the appropriate reaction to being eight years old and having your mom in jail!) So, in a moment of panic, I made it "Women's Day." The rule was that they could make cards for any woman who had been important for them and helped take care of them. This seemed to be a big relief for them -- instead of the anxiety they had before, they started chattering about who they were going to make cards for. It was one of the greatest honors of my year when one of the little boys made me a card. It said "To my teacher who is a woman Happy Woman's Day. Thank you for taking care of me."
As for Father's Day - well, let's just say, it was a good thing that school was always out by Father's Day. I would have needed trauma counselors.
Five years ago: Actual Appreciation