I was in a training last week, and someone created a writing prompt that immediately made me want to write:
Is it possible for someone to appreciate their own circumstances without understanding someone else’s?
How often do you look at your circumstances and wallow in the self-pity? You dump all your problems of the day on the first poor soul who asks how you’re doing. How often do you get angry at the customer service representative on the other end of the phone line when they aren’t helping you exactly how you want? How often do you look at your peers and think to yourself that if you were given the same things and same opportunities as they were, you would be a better, more successful, more liked person too?
I bet we all have been guilty at some point. Look back at that prompt. He used the word appreciate when talking about one’s circumstances. Usually when a person thinks about his or her circumstances, appreciate isn’t the first word that tends to come to mind.
What circumstances are you living in at the moment? Do you view your situation as something to appreciate or something holding you back from being successful?
Everyone Has a Story
This question made me think of my students. There have been so many times for myself as well as other teachers where I was so overwhelmed I simply began the lesson without taking time to engage with the students on any personal level. It seems I was always on a time crunch to get through certain concepts because we had to stay in line with the other campuses and follow the campus plan, so any personal talk was considered as nothing more than distraction.
An outburst from a kid resulted in an office visit where a disciplinary action of some sort was issued. On occasion a teacher would reach a breaking point and raise her voice to a student for not following instructions. I’ve been guilty of it. Whether I wanted to or not, I wasn’t truly able to stop and take into consideration the circumstances of the student placed in front of me. I have tried, though, and I’ve succeeded at times.
As I’ve learned about my students I’ve come to realize that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to appreciate one’s own circumstances without first knowing the circumstances of another. Let me share some examples.
He had been in school forever and didn’t appear to be any closer to graduating than he was when I met him almost 3 years prior. The girls who are pregnant or have a child were like magnets to him, and he would “fall in love” quickly and then turn obsessive and controlling. At one point he started having strong feelings for a girl who wasn’t a mom or expectant mom, but she was already in a relationship with someone who wasn’t very nice to her. It was then that I realized he wanted to be the guy who “saves” the girl from whatever she was going through. He was attracted to the girl who appeared to him to be in a bad situation.
We teachers discussed his behavior and tried to figure out what to do and how to somehow guard these girls from this boy who we viewed as preying on the girls in “distress.” It was alarming to all of us, and we tried to keep a close eye on the situation. We never thought of him as a danger, but at the same time we had him categorized as a predator.
At one point this student was placed in my class. One of the first assignments was to write about himself. Those are my favorite assignments because I learn so much about them that I may not have known otherwise. They tend to tell everything in their writing even when they won’t say it out loud.
From his writing I learned his mom died of alcohol poisoning when he was in elementary school. Not only that, but he was the only person home with her when this happened. To this day he takes responsibility for it. He wonders what he could have done to save her. He blames himself for her death because he just knows there’s something he could have and should have done and in his mind, if he would have done it, she would still be here.
Wow. Do you see the correlation? This young man was walking the halls looking for a relationship with someone who, to him, needed to be saved from a bad situation. Once I read his story and talked one-on-one with him about it, I no longer viewed him as a predator looking for the weakest girl to cling on to in a most unhealthy way. Instead, I saw the scared boy who had been living for the majority of his life feeling responsible for the death of his mom – the only woman in his life – because he didn’t save her from such an untimely death.
Really puts things into perspective doesn’t it?
The Drug-binging Slacker
I know, this title is harsh, but that’s what I saw. She came to school – sometimes. Most of the time it was clear she was coming off of a binge or had just gotten high before coming into school. Drama surrounded her between boys and her best friend.
She wasn’t even my student, but she would come to me on many occasions and cry about a problem she was having with a boy who treated her horribly and a best friend who she seemed to hate and love all at the same time. I caught myself feeling very unsympathetic to this girl who obviously didn’t care about being in school as she owed somewhere close to 40 hours to catch up from absences. I even questioned her intention for talking to me about her problems since any words of advice appeared to fall on deaf ears. Was she just using it as a way to get out of class for a while?
One day this girl entered my classroom as a student, and she began to write. I can’t say enough about how much I get from these students when they write. They truly are crying out but don’t quite understand how; or maybe it’s that they don’t feel safe to say things out loud. It makes them more vulnerable. There’s security in the written word because there’s no eye contact—no way to see what they anticipate as being disappointment or pity in someone else’s eyes.
This girl was not the drug-binging slacker as I had thought. This girl had a story. She had a mom who drank most of the hours of the day. She had no safe place to live. In staying with friend after friend, she found herself in some bad relationships with boys. She was trying to get out of her most recent relationship, but she didn’t know how because she felt like the boy needed her to help him get out of his own drug addiction. She was afraid he would do something drastic if she left. She loved him, so she wanted to help him even though she knew the relationship was toxic for her.
She didn’t come to school because she didn’t have a ride. Her intoxicated mom wouldn’t take her, and few friends live near her to pick her up. She found herself surrounded by the hardest drugs and would use them to help her escape what she called a disaster that is her life. She even toyed with the idea of dropping out of school even though she was very close to graduating. Her absences were such an issue she just wanted to give up. It wasn’t that she didn’t care. It was that she didn’t have a guardian who cared.
And why did she come and talk to me so often even when I wasn’t her teacher? She came to me because she said she had no adult in her life to go to for anything. Another teacher told her she needed to have someone she felt safe talking to. I was the person she thought of for some reason. I also realized she wasn’t coming to me for advice. She was coming to me just to talk about problems she never talked about with others. She was the one her friends brought problems to, but she had no one to bring her problems to. It wasn’t about getting out of class. It was too much to continue keeping inside.
Mean and Insecure
She was so quiet I sometimes forgot she was still in my classroom. It seemed like she wasted the day in class not getting very far in her lessons. Did she want to be here? Was she just wasting time? Maybe she wasn’t cut out to be in my class. It’s an elective after all.
No one talked to her because she always had a grimace on her face, and her words weren’t always the kindest when she spoke to others. I viewed her as insecure, uninterested in school, and downright mean.
I was shocked after only a few weeks in my class when I opened her notebook to see pristine notes she had taken. A girl after my own heart, she color coded her notes: blue vocabulary words, black definitions, red grammar fundamentals. . . She paid close attention to how neat her handwriting was. There wasn’t a blemish on her notes. She took so long to get through lessons because she focused on getting her notes nice and neat so she could better utilize them for tests. She rarely had to retake tests because she passed them with flying colors the first time.
Digging deeper I found that she had come to this school because she was so badly bullied at her other school. It became so bad that she dropped out. A point came in her life where she decided she wanted something better and was determined to make a change, so she came back to school.
However, she was nearing her final class and had exceptional grades under her belt since her return. Each day she walked into the building was a step closer to graduating, and she was filled with anxiety. She desperately wanted to attend college. The problem, though, was that she was the only person who cared for her mom, who was ill. If she went off to college, no one would be at home to care for her mom. She was afraid her mom’s health would worsen and even more, she was afraid her mom would feel like this young lady turned her back on her.
She was not mean and insecure. She was filled with anxiety because she was torn between responsibilities at home and making a better life for herself.
Don’t Judge a Book by the Picture on the Outside
You’ve heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s true. You never know what’s going on inside of someone just like you have no idea if that book really is good based off of artwork on the outside.
These are only 3 examples of students I’ve seen over the years. Each one has a story—a circumstance—just as each person surrounding you during the day has a story of some sort. Some are happy stories, and some are stories like these.
I catch myself at times complaining about a certain circumstance I’m facing at the moment, but my eyes are opened wide when I enter into my school building and see the faces of each student. I see them now, not as the label I had unintentionally given them before, but as a story. I look in the face of that young man who’s much larger than I am and see the scared boy inside. I see what he struggles with internally, and it reminds me to be patient with him. I look in the face of the girl who is on the verge of tears every day she walks in and watch as she listens to problems of others and consoles them in their time of need, and it reminds me to stop what I’m doing and listen to those who come to me regardless of my own situation.
Looking into the eyes of these students and seeing the circumstances in which they live, I am reminded that my circumstances are to be appreciated. I carry around stories of my own, but so does everyone else. I do still get frustrated and agitated with people sometimes when an order gets messed up at a restaurant or a student shuts down before even getting started in class. However, if I stop and remind myself that there’s a story behind this person, and I have no idea what just happened before I saw them, my heart softens to them.
Can YOU appreciate your own circumstances, whether good or bad, without fully understanding the circumstances of those around you?
I saw this video on Facebook several months back, and it came to mind when writing this.