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A FEELING OF HELPLESSNESS

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After recounting an incident in which a student was almost mistakenly removed from his home by the local child services administration, writingsam, a young teacher in New York, reflects on how her idealism has been tempered by the reality of her students’ problems. Or perhaps the better word is toughened:


Over the Christmas break, my mother and I were laughing about how intent I was on saving the world during college. After the aforementioned vaguely described incident, one student verbalizing that he wanted to commit suicide, and another student crying that he was scared to go back to live in his old house, I would settle for being able to save one kid from falling through the cracks. I love my job, I love my students, but I am do not love the feelings of helplessness that can arise on days such as this when you have become a part of such a warped system.

Why, she wonders, isn’t there more public outrage at the circumstances of some students?

3 Comments

I can totally relate to this. My special education classroom is small. I currently have just ten students and eight of them are in residential group homes and two live at home with their family. Many of these kids have fallen through the cracks of the "system" repeatedly and have been bounced from schools, foster homes, and even psychiatric facilities. Their stories could easily break our hearts on a daily basis.

Given that we already know that each day may be an uphill struggle we continue to look for the bright spots, we nurture and educate, and sometimes we even have to intervene and file those reports when we suspect harm, but we never ever give up.

We may not see the good that we do immediately, we may never even see it all with some kids but as long as me MAKE that connection and remind them, as long as we have them, that they ARE of value then some of them will make it out the other side.

Resilience is wonderful thing but it seldom thrives on its own.We are, sometimes, the only stubborn gardeners tending those forgotten plants.

You have to love what you are doing or, like the misery in the lives of so many kids, it will eventually eat you up from the inside.

Hang in there!

I too, like most teachers who truly care about the students they teach and who teach because they love the idea of helping students grow and become productive members of a sometimes faulty society, find myself lose my idealistic attitude and positive energy. It is when I become frustrated, negative and/or exhausted; after a day of leaving unanswered messages with agencies who are suppose to be helping the student in foster care, or when I call a parent because we are concerned about the numbers of absences and the parent states "well, we don't value attendance like you do", or when an otherwise wonderful student slips and in his adolescent mind forgets to excercise good judgement and then faces a mandatory 10 days of out of school suspension to surely be spent with an abusive and alcoholic mother, that I have to take a moment to breath, regroup and remember that despite all of the frustrations that I may feel with a faulty system, the lack of resources, and the sadness that i feel, it is only a day, or a week in the overall year...and students are somewhat resilient, and because those students know that I CARED, they may, just maybe, remember that SOMEONE cared. And, even when I can't save the world and all it's children, I can pick one child up, and that is one less child that slips through the cracks, falls to the side, or gets lost in the chaos. As long as at the end of the day, I can honestly say, that I did all that I could to help that child, then I have done my job and more.
I feel that I must continue to wake up every morning and feel idealistic and positive and sometimes be perceived as naive to others, for if I do not approach the day with all the positive energy in the world, I will surely not be able to climb my way through the muck that begins when the day begins of the systems that do not work in the way my idealistic mind believes they should and the children deserve them to work. I would not stand tall by the end of the day and would not be able to rest and wake up the next day to do my job again.

I would like to share a joke (followed with a couple of my own comments) that I often tell to my audiences at International Reading Association conferences.

I read recently that President Bush was very discouraged about his falling popularity in the polls – so much so that he was unable to sleep at night. He would toss and turn and wake up in the morning – exhausted.

After a few nights of this threshing around, he had a dream. President Geo. Washington appeared in his dream and asked, “George, what’s wrong with you?” President Bush shared his concerns with Pres. Washington, and asked for some advice. “Do what I did with the Cherry Tree incident, Geo. Tell the Truth.”

The next morning Pres. Bush called a news conference and told the truth. He said, “I lied. NCLB really is disastrous legislation, but we’re going to expand it anyway.” The firestorm continued.

That night he was again sleeping fitfully when the late Pres. Truman approached him. “Mr. Bush, I think you need to do what I did. GIVE ‘EM HELL.

The following day Pres. Bush called another news conference at which he berated teachers for refusing to be accountable. Understandably, his tactic was not well received.

That night, exhausted, Pres. Bush retired early and immediately began having nightmares. Suddenly President Lincoln appeared in his dream. “George W.,” Honest Abe said, “It’s obvious you are stressed out to the max. I suggest you take some time off and go to a play.”

When you become discouraged by unjust criticism and the unrealistic demands of politicians, don’t go to a play. Make a list of all the positive ways you are affecting kids’ lives. Read your list over and over and over until you know it by heart. Go to your computer and write your detractors a letter. Tell them they can go jump in the lake because you’re tired of listening to their crap. You are making a positive difference in the lives of your students and you refuse to let nay-sayers rain on your parade. Hit the delete button and THEN go to a play.

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  • Jacquie McTaggart: I would like to share a joke (followed with a read more
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