Today was the penultimate school day before a long break for Passover and Easter. Starting Thursday I’ll have seven school days and two weekends away from work.
I love my job but it requires a great deal of energy and it can really wear me down over time. My colleagues and I have been anticipating this break, counting down the days and periods until it starts at 3PM tomorrow.
When I was a student I relished these breaks and looked forward to them with glee, but my students are reacting very differently. They are increasingly edgy, antsy, emotionally stressed and violent. Ask why and they’ll tell you they don’t want the break. They want school to continue.
Many of my colleagues will be traveling to Florida, Africa, Europe, South America and Jamaica among other destinations. They’ll be driving, flying or taking cruises.
Even though I’ll be at home spending most of the time off preparing for a college course I’ll be teaching starting in June I’ll still be able to sleep late, work at a more leisurely pace, and stop to smell whatever is blooming next week.
My students will also be staying home, but they won’t smell anything blooming.
For these kids staying home doesn’t just mean remaining in the Bronx; most of them will not leave their apartment.
We don’t have a park in the neighborhood and the parents, many of whom work two or more jobs, don’t want their pre-teen and teenage children wandering around completely unsupervised.
School is where these boys and girls socialize, spend time outside and have at least a little taste of freedom.
School is where my students get two nutritious meals a day and teacher-provided snacks. No school? For some it means little or no food. When students held a canned food collection just before Thanksgiving the donations, supplemented by teacher donated turkeys, were given to other students in need.
School is also where these boys and girls get to show how smart they can be, how good they can be. When they’re not smart or good they’re given encouragement, instruction and another chance instead of a slap, a belt or worse.
No wonder they don’t want a nearly two-week break. Its not that they love school or their teachers all that much.
It’s that they like home less.
Schools provide so much more than an education for children. For so many students school is their safe place and their family. Like a family a school can offer them support, encouragement, guidance, and even basic needs.
I know this all too well. It is the great American failure that we lack any integrated social support structure which makes childhood safe. Back in 1992 I wrote in the NYT, “until Americans stop declaring “wars” on their neighbors and commit themselves to providing our cities with something more than “police protection” we won’t make any real progress. Until we have a true social justice system, we will fail our children. – only online version I could find is truncated in The Deseret News of all places – http://archive.deseretnews.com/archive/224829/KING-VERDICT-REFLECTS-VIEW-OF-POLICE.html
Don’t think this only happens in poor neighborhoods. My students come in early every day. They unpack, hang out, talk about life. Other teachers want to know why they are there before school has begun. I think it’s because they never have anyone to talk to so they like to come in to talk to me. I also can’t seem to get them to leave at the end of the day. So many of them spend vacations alone, while their parents work. They like coming to school just to be around people who care that they are in the room.
Unfortunately, we have no control over their lives when the bell rings. The most supportive and nurturing school community cannot change that. That said, human beings have demonstrated, and throughout history, the capacity to survive the most horrendous of circumstances.
That’s not to say that I don’t think about my students when we are on vacation; to the contrary. It’s just that the situation is beyond my control. The best that any teacher, and any school, can do is to provide a safe and nurturing environment. Otherwise, we will lose our minds.