Sometimes the story comes from life and ends up on the road. This is the case with this posting as it is a lesson I brought to the road.
When I was a new teacher just starting my career, I served as a bilingual 3rd grade teacher. I remember getting quite frustrated with a student who was consistently late and often fell asleep in my class. I saw this student as not motivated and disrespectful. I assumed that he was staying up late watching TV. This was long before personal computers and other technology.
One morning, during my math instruction, I found this student sleeping; head down on his desk. I lost my temper. I was young and new to the profession. I shook the desk waking him up and commenced to dress this student down for his inattention and lack of care for his education. I saw his behavior as disrespectful and made several assumptions about him and his future.
I kept this student after class during recess so I could discuss his behavior further. I began counseling this student about not watching television in the evening and getting to bed early. I threaten to call his parents. I stopped immediately when the student began to well up and cry.
What the student told me next changed my practice as an educator for the rest of my career. He had been hiding in an abandoned car in the alley behind his house all night to avoid being beaten by his father who had been drinking. He said when his father began to drink he got violent and the family would hide and that this happened frequently.
I learned by listening, that this student got himself up each morning, dressed his younger sister and walked several miles to school through one of the most gang infested sections of the town. He told me he came to school because he could eat both breakfast and lunch. He was hungry most of the time. Further, he came because it was safe and he believed that I cared about him.
Of course, I felt horrible for the assumptions I had made concerning this student and the fact I did not know about his home environment. It never happened again in my career as an educator. I learned a great lesson that day. Sometimes, we as educators might be the only caring adult a student meets all day.
I learned that my experience growing up was not necessarily the same as those of many of my students. I was fortunate enough to have loving parents who cared for my sister and me. They made sure we were safe and secure. They valued our education and supported our schools. My family life was and is good. But I cannot assume this is the case with all my students. Abuse and hunger does not only just happen somewhere far from our community..
Over the years, I have become part of many of my students’ stories who have had to overcome great hardship and obstacles just to get to school each day. It is our primary responsibility, as educators, to identify those students in need and help remove those obstacles. We as educators must look beyond our classrooms to the world outside our schools to insure that our students are safe and secure.
I carry this lesson as an attitude on the road. I have learned that people while differing in language and culture have pretty much the same motivations They want to be safe and secure. They want to be loved and cared for and most importantly valued and respected. We have to look deep and not judge other people we meet on our adventures by the assumptions of our own culture (ethnocentrisms). By connecting with those we meet on the road with mutual respect and care, we open the very door that keeps us traveling to the next blank spot on the map as we chase the ever-changing horizons of our dreams.
If you are wondering what ever happen to the little boy I spoke about in the beginning of this article, my wife, Tammy, and I had the honor to attend his graduation from high school many years ago and we were proud to receive word of his commission as an officer and gentleman in the United States Navy. He is presently serving in harm’s way.