in the past two days, i've had some tough conversations with students. tough, but good, i think. working in public school is challenging in so many ways, one of which is that we have all of these pressures and academic standards, and this high calling to push our students to academic excellence, but yet, sometimes life just gets in the way of those things, as important as they are. i sometimes catch myself inadvertently pushing away opportunities to slow down for a much-needed conversation because there's this need to hurry kids to class, make sure they don't miss instruction, can't take any extra time, go, go, go... anyway, i'm glad i slowed down for these moments:

i talked to a student who was coping with a difficult milestone, the 1-year anniversary of a best friend's suicide. the student shared about their friendship, built on the common ground of abuse suffered, her friend's heartache upon discovering she was pregnant at 14, and the moment that she learned of her friend's death. we talked about what it means to be strong, that it's ok to grieve, but also ok to be grateful for her own strength and life. i challenged her to help re-write her friend's daughter's life story, to make it a happy, joyful story, and to watch out for her friend's daughter so that she would not have to go through the same sorrows that her young mom experienced in her short life. there's no way to undo what this student has experienced already in her life, but at the very least, i want to LISTEN to her story.

today, i had a chance to talk to another student. he's been in the foster system forever, moved from home to home, has a behavior disorder which means he's a "high needs" placement. this means he's probably felt unwanted in most situations because he can be, frankly, difficult. i have a lot of students in this same situation: their transcripts are a mess, they are usually credit deficient, because they are moved frequently, change schools several times a year, they have no healthy relationships or attachments to anyone, they have no family or friends, just "workers" (case workers, therapists, psychiatrists, judges, POs, teachers... professionals, in other words). they have experienced pretty horrendous childhood traumas resulting in removal from their home. they come with a variety of mental health issues: PTSD, RAD (reactive attachment disorder - failure to form normal attachments due to abuse, neglect, etc), bipolar disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome, ADHD, ODD (oppositional defiance disorder), conduct disorder... the list goes on. i've noticed some of my male students with RAD seem to just be severely detached... they talk about extremely heartbreaking situations in a very impersonal, unaffected way. anyway, this student today walked into my room because he has basically given up on trying now that he knows he's being moved again. he talked, unemotionally, about the list of procedures and consequences he'll likely face when he's transferred: drug treatment, probation, probably some time in JDC. i said to him, "it sounds like a bunch of consequences that don't mean anything to you." he said, "they can't do anything to me, there's nothing they can take from me, i already have nothing." he wasn't upset, just very, very candid. we talked about his perspective, what he thinks is wrong with the system, what he would do differently; he thinks re-integration with families should be the rule, not the exception. i asked him if he thought there were any circumstances in which a kid should not be re-integrated. i asked him if he thought he had been spared anything difficult by his parents' rights being severed. he said, "whatever it may have saved me from, my life still ended up being crap." i asked him if this experience has made him consider what he will do differently when he's on his own. he talked about not wanting kids until he's older, he's had some life experiences of his own, has some stability, so that kids won't seem like a burden to him or he won't resent them. my goals in this whole conversation were to validate his perspective, to get him to speak on a more personal level (hard for some kids with RAD), and to speak to him as one adult to another. you know, the reality is that people who work with foster kids aren't bad people, i know that in some cases there is just no good answer. when you are faced with leaving a kid in a dangerous situation or removing them from their family, that's not a good choice to have to make. but, it doesn't matter what the reality is, what the truth is, what matters is HIS perception of what has happened to him, because it is that perception of his experience that is shaping who he is and who he will become. he's going to have difficulty in all of his relationships for the rest of his life because he went from one terrible childhood experience straight into somewhat less-terrible-but-not-great foster homes. and, sadly, some foster homes are as abusive as the homes kids are removed from to begin with. it takes a lot more than one conversation and a few weeks of a "relationship" with a kid to make a difference, but my only hope is that he felt that i listened to him, i respected his opinion, and that there was no where else i wanted to be at that moment than having that conversation with him. should i have tried harder? should i have forced the conversation a certain way, to advise him, to try to say some comforting words? how can we ever know what is the right thing to do or say in any moment? i don't know. i'm always unsure of myself. but, i felt like it was such a delicate moment, like if i tried too hard, said too much, i might disrupt it, kill it. so, i held back and reset my expectations. i think that is ok, too.

well, that's all for now. just wanted to share.


Michelle said...

"...what matters is HIS perception of what has happened to him, because it is that perception of his experience that is shaping who he is and who he will become."

Questions I have in response?

1. Do you already know that you live, speak, eat therapeutic relationships with these kids.

2. Do you know the level of your brilliance?

3. Do you know how refreshing it is to have friends that truly understand these kids? I work with "these kids" too and understand.

Thank you for writing this. Love you.

Chelle. said...

Oh my heart...

That is just SO Much It. Much of the time they aren't heard.. and they know that.
for someone to share their story and be truly heard in the midst of the chaos - Screams in the deepest darkest heart, "You. Are. Important."

That is the stuff that saves lives.
this i know to be true.