. . . but something is really tugging at me hard.
When can we separate the horrible lives that too many of my students endure growing up from their being complete and utter jackasses making dumb decisions about their futures and disrupting class on a terribly regular basis? And arguing with me about every little tiny thing I say, even though they don’t actually know how to spell “and”? (This is not a joke; the number of my high school students who don’t know the written difference between “in” and “and” is nauseatingly scary.)
Let’s clarify something here, please: I teach lots of different kids from all over the school system. And why is that, one might ask? Because I love teaching, I love challenges, I like to do things that are hard and scare me (and I am, at present, the primary breadwinner in the household and extra teaching pays a little bit of extra money. For reals, y’all.). Students who are eligible for ex ed services while on homebound, meaning that for whatever reason (usually health-related but sometimes behavioral) they can’t come to school, have the legal right to the services of a ex ed teacher. Me. Students who are eligible for ex ed services and who are incarcerated also have the legal right to an ex ed teacher. Me again. At my current workplace, kids who’ve gotten in trouble but not so much that they need to be suspended are assigned evening school, and some of those not completely wretchful teens are eligible for services and so must be provided an ex ed teacher. Yes, me. And then there’s ESY, extended school year, which is a summer program run by the county school system for eligible students who are in peril of losing hard won skills if they are not provided instruction and ex ed services over the summer weeks. Again, me.
In short, I work with a train-load of kids. Not the nominally good kids either. Some of mine are . . . deliberately bad? impossible to deal with? heartbreakingly sad and screwed up? mentally and emotionally sick and damaged? all while being unbelievably rude, ugly [Southern definition, which has nothing to do with how you look], and mean? Oh my God, yes. Yes.
I have seen parents look at their teenage child and say they don’t want that child living in their house anymore. I have seen parents curse at their children, tell them they are tired of them, just sick of dealing with them and all their trouble, that they aren’t coming back up to this school anymore to deal with their problems. I have seen soul-crushing apathy and neglect and despair from some parents, whose own lives are so chaotic and depressed that they can only vaguely hope their children are even at school. For every good and kind and loving parent I see, I see one who isn’t any of those things (at least not in public), and I hear even worse from the kids themselves about what happens at home.
So, when can I start to hold my students responsible for the awfulness they display for my daily viewing pleasure?
And, even more importantly, how can I fix the huge and horrible disaster posturing as my students’ childhood and adolescence? Please, imagine a life where being at school is so much better than being at home that the coming of summer vacation is a cause for panic. (At least at school, there’s food and people to talk to and adults who might yell or be grumpy but who won’t hit you and who might even care about you.)
How do I accept that I can’t fix these students’ lives, and what can I do to keep fighting that immutable fact? Because I am fighting and I’m not giving up. But I am tired tonight. And really, really sad…