This week has been busy. I started grad school, started teaching for the first time in two years and in am going to be married in a few weeks. There is a lot going on. While having a discussion with my students this week all of our eyes were opened to how much stuff we are all actually going through.
We do this activity in our school called community circles. Think a class-sized small group in an education setting. I get to ask kids questions. Me being me I don’t go easy, even for 6th graders. I asked them this week “what is the toughest thing you’ve ever been through.” We all cried. Students talked about parents dying, cousins being incarcerated, rampant abuse, addiction, and death. We are all been through and are currently going through some stuff. I was amazed at my student’s ability to persevere through this stuff. All this trauma in their lives and yet they show up faithfully every morning. One kid still has PTSD from carrying his sisters out of their burning house and his arm catching on fire. He is the most courageous person I met, he’s 11.
In one of my grad classes by chance we were talking about talking with students dealing with tough stuff. A lot of adults were still oblivious to the sheer weight of the struggles students go through. Here are some of the things I spoke into that conversation and some thoughts I got after.
Calm on the Outiside, Freak out on the inside
We can’t imagine the hells some of the kids we work with go through. We grow accustomed to the routines of our days, the safety and stability we have created for ourselves and then we get punched in the mouth by the messes a student is facing. In trainings I have given I always tell adults, stay calm on the outside and freak out on the inside. If students saw how their stories impacted us in a negative way we would tarnish that relationship. They may no longer feeling like we are a safe person for them because we freaked out. Our judging eyes and emotions can reveal to the student a lot. Remember, stay calm, they are coming to you because they believe you care for them and may just need to vent.
Point them to the right people
You are not a mental health professional, social worker, or counselor (or maybe you are which would be totally cool with me). You may be able to listen to their problems and help students process their hurts but you can’t solve them. Professionals are needed sometimes to help students overcome their struggles and hurts. They are able to use their resources, tools and experience to help students out the best. Have some counselors or social workers in your list of resources. Point students and their families to them. Make sure to share what these students are going through with a supervisor. Don’t simply let it die out with you. For your own mental health and the students safety (and yes any liability concerns) let a supervisor know. Students need the best people to help them sometimes, and sometimes that’s not you. That is ok, you still matter and are important.
If students lives are marked by inconsistency, trauma, lies and hurt, you shouldn’t add to that. Show up for students. Be a safe and consistent person for them. Don’t lie to them and say you will be there when you won’t. Show up predictably in their lives and randomly too. Engage them where they are at. Take them to new places and share positive experiences with them. Laugh. Give them hugs and tell them you love and are proud of them. Don’t tell them everything will be alright, because do you honestly know that? Let them know you are with them no matter what and have their back.
Students deal with a lot of stuff. I am not trying to say I am an expert. What ways and tips do you all have to help students dealing with tough stuff?