My daughter is the typical Pre-K student.
She talks nonstop about everything her teacher does in school. Every small thing is major in her eyes. She sings every song to Moana at the top of her lungs.
She is sweet, innocent and full of “I have a good idea Daddy…” thoughts every day.
Similar to other teacher’s children, she comes to school with me every day and roams around with other teachers’ children. This is the group who knows where the snacks are hidden in other teachers’ classrooms and which lunch lady during afterschool gives the best snacks.
Each day our routine consists of me checking her folder, her sharing what she did that day, and grabbing her a snack out of my school pantry. It’s not uncommon to hear a disappointing gasp when her supply of juice boxes is depleted or when she must go without for a whole hour until Dad’s first hour of after school program is over.
Being in town, I hear I have a good idea Daddy. Let’s go to McDonalds and get chicken nuggets.
If I went with this idea as often as it’s offered, I would be purchasing stock in the golden arches franchise in town. However, I do what every great Dad does from time to time — I lie and tell her I am broke and Mommy has all the money.
She frowns and tells me how she will go get the “monies from Mommy for tomorrow.”
Our family is blessed and far from poverty, but I needed this motormouth four year old to hush so I could go run my after school program. However, something changed that evening. As my wife and children went to bed, I pecked away at the computer checking up on social media feeds, and my four year emerged from the shadow with something behind her back.
She knows no stranger who is not her friend or someone she cannot help.
It made me think about my own students in class. Unlike my daughter who was “sooooo hungry,” but truly has no idea what it is really like to not have food readily available.
Many children would love to be able to dine at any local eatery but do not have the means to.
This moment rekindled the memory of a home visit only a few weeks prior. I would never forget the visit. I walked into a low income apartment that was recently remodeled and it looked immaculate. But something was missing, literally.
The single-mom was struggling so much that she said her entire week’s paycheck went to buy the spoons in her home. Her smile glowed telling me as we stood in her bare apartment — as she recently eliminated her homeless status. She could now raise her 12-year old son in there own home. Observing they were still sleeping on the floor, the only food was Dollar Store items with minimal nutritional value.
It made me think about the number of days her son entered homeroom with a negative attitude and prowled around the room to get breakfast leftovers and seconds. This young man knew what my young daughter could not even believe to fathom, hunger.
Students who do not receive the basic necessities — food, a comfortable night’s sleep, and love from an adult (just to name a few) — do not perform the same way as a child who is being well kept. I am ashamed to admit, there were many days when I scolded that same young man for being a breakfast scavenger.
He wasn’t disobeying me; he was fighting to survive his situation.
Reflection can be a humbling and eye opening time.
After sharing this child’s story with some colleagues and friends, our community shined on how it puts our children first. People came forth and asked to donate gently used furniture and a local business brought two new beds to their home for Mom and son. This particular child is no longer battling for breakfast scraps and Mom’s paycheck is allowing her to focus on providing food for her son and his behavior has improved greatly since.
I pray this will be the last time this student goes hungry.
–Brian Cook, Ed.D.–
As rain drizzles down upon the heads of youthful spirits entering Ocean City Elementary School, parents and students are hand-in-hand entering the building. Students embrace teachers waiting for them inside the corridor and friendly exchange of words between parents are common.
Earlier that day only a few miles away, students parked cars and acknowledged their teachers upon entering Stephen DeCatur High School. Many brought their own iced coffees and lounged in common areas speaking with peers as well as school faculty.
Each anecdote is common practice in the Ocean City-Berlin area, but those warm and fuzzy feelings are not always the same when entering middle schools. Instead, students are signal calling their social group to join them in the hallways, attempting to determine where they fit in the social structure, or perhaps finding their safe haven, wherever it may be in the school.
This factious scenario, but real locations, is the way undergraduate students perceive middle school students. Yes, they are youthful and immature. Yes, there is a component of the student learning their identity. Yes, it is not all warm and fuzzy like elementary school.
Then, what is it then?
Middle school is the time when students needs rock solid role models and adults who care about them the most. Elementary school teachers have laid the foundation at a time when students love school and all of their teachers. Middle school teachers must sustain that passion and build upon it.
Wow, that is not an easy task, but it is necessary to see students achieve at their maximum capacity. However, high quality middle school teachers are becoming harder and harder to find.
Teaching undergraduate classes at the university level, I have taught numerous students who are on elementary or high school certification tracks. Why, I ask them? For some reason, they are terrified of the age group and believe it’s too much of a challenge.
Yes, it’s a rough time.
I have found it is a time when you must unconditionally model love and relationships to students. For some odd reason, it is a time when they must show off who they think they are to friends and find themselves. That’s when you show love the most, sometimes tough love, but still love them the most.
During this time, teachers must be willing to have courageous conversations and courageous visits. Middle schoolers have to see you love them to give a darn about you or your subject area.
I often tell undergrads if you love students and want to make a difference, become a middle school teacher. There is no better reward.
–BRIAN COOK, Ed.D.–