Context

First, let me apologize to you cyber friends of mine for my lack of blogging this week.  The reason for this is my aforementioned preference for YAKKING every half hour.  Makes blogging difficult.  Makes everything difficult, really.  Thanks to you all for you sweet, supportive, tough-love comments about getting over the guilt.  Sometimes you just need a good friend (or a couple hundred) to tell you to get over it and move on.  So, thanks for being those friends.  Also, thanks for all the suggestions about Flintstone vitamins!  I got the gummies last night and not only are they delicious but they were much gentler on my stomach.  Worked like a charm!

Now, back to today.

Tonight I had my first open house at school.  I was actually a little worried about it because…well…parents are scary.  And I say that as a parent.  I know that insane need to defend, protect, and rationalize on behalf of your child – even if they are failing.  Or not turning in work.  Or not participating in class.  As a parent, you just can’t shake that defense mechanism and so I was worried I’d be bombarded by parents blaming me for their students poor performance in class.

But I wasn’t!

The parents that showed up were pleasant, grateful, conversational, and involved.  I wish all parents were like that.

I know I said I wouldn’t be able to share anything with you about my job for security reasons, but I simply have to tell you about something that happened tonight.  Because it changed me not just as a teacher, but as a person and as a parent myself.

There is a student in one of my classes who is having some problems.  He’s failing because he won’t do any work.  He doesn’t participate in class.  He doesn’t pay attention.  And I have talked with him about how that will impact his grades throughout the year and how he can improve that, but it doesn’t seem to help.  Finally, I had to call his parents last week and I spoke with his dad about his performance in class.  I wanted him to know there was a problem.

Tonight, that student and his father came to the open house.  After the open house ended, the father and his son showed back up in my classroom.  His dad asked the student to wait out in the hall and then he turned to me.  He said that he wanted to explain about something that’s going on at home that is impacting his son’s performance in school.  He said it wasn’t an excuse.  It was just context.

Three months ago, the student’s mother died.  She had been sick for many years and her death had been hard for the student and for their whole family.  What touched me the most was this father.  He was a mechanic and was wearing his uniform, clearly indicating that he had come straight from work.

“The hardest part for me,” he explained with tears in his eyes, “is that I only get to spend about two hours a day with my kids when I get home from work.”

His wife had been a stay at home mom for his son’s whole life.  She had helped with the homework.  She had made the dinners.  She had encouraged and supported her children academically.  He told me that he had always been involved in the sports and extra curricular activities, but he worked full time to provide for them and that didn’t leave a lot of evenings to sit down and help with the homework.

“Actually, this is my first open house,” he laughingly told me while brushing tears quickly away.  “And I’m not saying that any of this excuses my son’s performance in class, but I wanted you to know what was going on so that you had some context for what’s happening.”

By the time our conversation ended, he and I had come up with a plan of action for his son.

But when I left school tonight, it wasn’t academics that I was thinking about.  It wasn’t even students.  Or their parents.  It was about people.  And context.

As a teacher, I have no idea where a student has been when they walk into my classroom and I have no idea where they go when they leave my classroom.  And, really, as a person it’s no different.  I encounter people every day – clerks in stores, waiters in restaurants, pediatricians, Bean’s daycare workers, bank clerks, the guy behind the counter at the deli, my parents, my friends, my husband.  I encounter all kinds of people every day and most of the time, I don’t know where they were before they interacted with me or where they go afterward.  And tonight I learned that sometimes when that context is missing, we misunderstand people.

What I saw as a disciplinary problem was a grieving student.

And it makes me wonder how many times during the course of a regular day I encounter people who have context of their own.  How many times do I assume or judge or jump to conclusions without the context?  And it’s not that we can always know the context or that we even have a right to know someone’s context, but I think what’s more important is that we recognize there is context.

That’s what compassion is to me.  It isn’t really an action so much as it is a recognition of the context that people have in their lives.

And that’s something that I learned that from one of my students today.

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