Wednesday, June 15, 2011


One of the hardest--and best--things about being a teacher is getting to know students beyond the academic content I cover in class. Yes, I know my students as learners of math, but sometimes I forget how much else they have going on outside of school. Thursday felt like one of those days where I was hit pretty hard with some painful reminders of who my students are beyond the classroom: So at the risk of sounding like a Freedom Writers/Dangerous Minds/Dead Poets Society kind of post:

Thursday started off with a parent meeting that the parent had requested. I knew that this woman's child had been struggling with depression, but on Thursday morning she just unloaded. Things were going from bad to worse and her student was about to go into a hospitalized treatment program. These are the things I feel completely untrained to deal with. I adore her child, and it broke my heart to hear that the situation has become so dire. I think what the mom needed most of all was just someone to talk to, which I am happy to provide, but beyond being the patient listener I felt like I had no advice to give. 

In the afternoon as I was heading out and locking up with the rest of the teachers, a man sort of stumbled through the front door. We asked if he needed any help, and he only said "No" and stumbled up the stairs. Finally we figured out that he was a father looking for his child, so another teacher walked with him around the school. I found an administrator and when I named the father, the administrator responded, "Oh no, is he drunk?" Clearly he was, but I did not know that this was a regular occurrence. The student wasn't at school, so we ushered the father outside I took down his license plate number and called the police because he was clearly in no state to drive away. Having known this student for some time now, learning about the alcoholic home life made a lot of things clearer. I wonder how I would have interacted with this student differently if I had known earlier? 

Thursday evening was graduation. There's one student who I haven't been able to stop thinking about since I learned a little more about his background. Watching him walk across the stage made me sad and angry because I know his future doesn't hold in store. This student is incredibly bright, driven, and all around awesome. He got accepted to some pretty competitive colleges including UC Santa Cruz, his first choice. He has an impressive resume, is Latino, and is the first in his family to go to college, so the scholarships should be rolling in. But they're not. He also happens to be an undocumented immigrant, so he's not able to even fill out the FAFSA. At least in California undocumented immigrants are eligible for in state tuition, but that still comes to well over $20,000 per year. We can't suggest that he work to pay tuition because he won't be able to get a job that pays much of anything (or is legal). How do you tell a kid who has done everything right that all his hard work won't actually pay off?

Who knows what other stories my other students have.  It's a sobering reminder of who they are as people outside of school. And just to make sure this gets political, write your legislators to garner their support for the DREAM Act (and funding for schools). 

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