Providing Safety When Students’ Lives Get Complicated.

If you’re like me, this past week has been…rough. Aspects of our country have been changed so much, often at a flick of a pen, much to the horror and shock of many people in America – and across the globe. It hasn’t been easy on my students, either.

The middle school where I work is made up of 1200+ students in grades 7&8, and our demographics include students from all over the world; white students being in the minority. 8th graders take a Civics class, learning about the functions of government, the qualities of a leader, and basic economics. Every morning before school, our library welcomes in roughly 200 of those students who accomplish several things, from checking out books and printing assignments, to finishing homework and even just waking up. Very few of those 200 students sit by themselves. When walking around and monitoring students (and catching the few trying to copy someone’s homework), I pick up on their conversations. Throughout the election cycle, the conversation has almost always been about politics – what headlines they’ve seen, videos/news segments they’ve watched, and their opinions about what’s going on.

Maybe your students aren’t like mine, but I sense in their discussions a lot of concern, fear, and worry. Armed with smartphones and consistent internet, they know what’s going on in our country, whether or not we want them to. I love that students feel safe in my library to hang out with their friends and talk about whatever they feel like talking about.

I also have quite a lot of students whose families have fairly recently (say in the last 5-7 years) come to the United States, and those who were born here but their parents weren’t. I have a few students whose families have moved here in the last year. Earlier in the year, I struck up a conversation with a new 7th grade student and she mentioned she was new to the country. When I asked about where she was from, she looked around, lowered her head, and whispered, “Iran.” While I was very friendly to her and reassured her that she was welcome here, it reinforced to me how difficult some of our students’ lives are.

The point I’m getting to is that more than ever, our students need us. They need to know we love them, support them, and want the best for them. They need to know that we care about them as individuals and that we can help them with academic topics or personal ones. We are the non-biased party, not responsible for their grades, and not their parents, either. We need to get the point across that we are the safe ones – and the safe place – where they will always be welcome, no matter their immigration status, religion, sexual orientation, or background. No matter our political beliefs, we owe a safe place to our students, for them to learn and explore anything they feel like learning or exploring.

 

With this weekend’s news, my instant thought was about my students. What will they be talking about? How many of my students may have “disappeared” over the weekend? What can I DO for my students? Here’s what I’m going to do.

  • I’m going to be the listening ear. Listening to their conversations with each other, listening better when having conversations 1 on 1 or with a group.
  • I want to review my collection for what kinds of resources I have available so I’ll quickly know what to suggest if a student needs something.
  • I’m going to step up my friendliness and be more understanding.

I hope my students find this kind of support in many adults this coming week, but I can’t assume it. I want to be a person my students feel like they can come to with anything – to share celebrations in the good times, and to find support when they feel like the world is falling down around them. For some students, this coming week may fall into the latter part of that statement. I owe it to my students to be the support they need, so that’s what I’m going to be.

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