Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On Teaching "Broken" Children

My son is getting married next month. In the whirlwind that is wedding planning, I find that I have to work through one more step than most mothers-of-the-groom. The fact that I'm no longer married to my son's father means that every decision involves a call or an email; I can't simply turn to my husband over in his recliner and ask him a question. He is not my children's father so he doesn't feel that his opinions on who-sits-where at the rehearsal dinner are needed.

All of this extra thinking and consideration for my ex and his wife have catapulted me straight into a period of reflection. As my son is about to marry, I wonder if he is damaged any by the life we chose for him, the every-other-weekend, changing-of-the-guard, who-am-I-with-for-Christmas-this-year existence that began for him when he was three.

As I think back about his life, I also think about my students in similar situations. Following is a plea to teachers who have students from what someone, at some point, coined "broken homes."

Dear Teachers,

I know it's annoying when your students don't bring in homework. I also know it's highly suspect when they claim to have left it at Mom's while they were spending the night with Dad. But I hope you'll be sensitive to this situation. It's a challenge to pack up kids - for the night and for school the next day - and deliver them halfway between two places at a previously determined time. Not only is it a challenge, but it hurts. Handing children off to the other parent is a situation that leaves one parent driving home feeling like someone's delivered a swift kick to the gut. And returning to the house to find it empty, except for toys on the floor and, oops, a homework paper on the kitchen table, is heartbreaking. Kids sense, and feel, the heartbreak, too. Unfortunately those feelings interrupt the organization process, and things are forgotten. Please think of that scenario whenever homework is missing from kids who live in two places. It'll get turned soon as the guard changes again.

Also, be sure to do all the research you need to help you better understand which parent the student actually lives with (if not both), how often he/she sees the other parent, and which parent is the one you should contact about school related issues. I ask my students to write their own names and addresses on a note card on the first day of school and the names of their parents. I then ask them to circle the name(s) of the parent(s) with whom they live. I learned this lesson the hard way. Once a student wrote both parents' names on a card. After trying unsuccessfully to call the mother, I dialed the number beside the father's name. After I mentioned my student, the parent began screaming at me over the phone, telling me he hadn't seen the child in seven years. Yikes! I should've done my homework.

Last, although you should be sensitive and flexible when circumstances occur that are out of a child's control, don't let them play the "broken home" card every time they think they deserve more time, more attention, or lower expectations. I taught my kids that they had to work twice as hard at school because they received two sets of birthday presents. Okay, not really...but I did tell them that our home situation would one day make them stronger and would enable them to be loved by many more people - extended families, step-parents and step-siblings, half-siblings, etc.

Still, think about your "back and forth" students as you make decisions in your classroom. One day, one of them will be getting married, and someone will be working overtime to make sure everything runs smoothly.


One Who Knows