Missing Pieces

At the beginning of quarantine, we worked a couple of jigsaw puzzles at our house. A way to pass the time while keeping the brain working. It is always interesting to me to watch how tiny pieces fit together to create one big picture.

The pieces all have different colors and shapes. Each one with its own place. Only fitting together with those directly surrounding. The togetherness grows exponentially. However, if there is just one missing piece, the picture is incomplete. So frustrating.

Each of us is born into a picture. With a family that will love us and helps us grow. Sadly, that is not always the case. And the missing pieces often leave big holes.

Children especially have a difficult time finding their place when these pieces are missing. They do not understand. Whether withdrawing or acting out, they are seeking control. This is sometimes hard to remember as a teacher.

Yesterday, I reacted to certain behaviors with little thought to what was behind them. They were frustrated. I was frustrated. I kept thinking, “If only these friends would listen and follow directions like everyone else!”

This morning, I woke up thinking about those friends. I wanted to find a way to improve the situation. Find a way to encourage appropriate behavior and participation. After all, music class is supposed to be fun!

But how? One word came to mind-connections. I know that is the key. Sometimes I just need a reminder.

Today, I worked on those connections. In the process, I discovered some of the missing pieces. The death of a parent, negative influences from older siblings, family instability. These little ones are dealing with big emotions and don’t know why or how to express them.

Our time together was brief. Leaving me with more questions than answers. However, there was also a glimmer of hope. Little faces, often angry, smiling just a bit. Showing a desire to do the right thing. Even if only able for a limited amount of time.

There is no way for me to fill in those missing pieces. They are irreplaceable. All I can do is recognize and acknowledge. But maybe the edges can be blurred, and a new picture of belonging will emerge. Causing the frustrations of the missing pieces to fade.

Point of Reference

I grew up with a large extended family. My parents have been married for over fifty years. In my circle of family and friends, we have experienced life and death, cancer, anxiety and depression, and, of course, art, and music. I could discuss any of those things all day long.

There are other things I would rather not discuss. This week I was reminded more than once of life experiences for which I have no point of reference.

The first one involved a younger student. Before class, the teacher mentioned that the father of this child was going to prison. This friend was restless, struggling to engage and fit in. Quickly moving between over-excitement and complete stillness. I think it had been a rough day.

I had my young friend sitting right beside me during music class. When I sensed a little restlessness, I slowly patted on the back-a steady, gentle, sixty-beats-per-minute pat. It seemed to help.

After class, I found myself thinking, “How could my actions possibly help this situation for the long-term?” Yes, they might have helped at that moment. However, in the grand scheme, offered little.

The second involved an older student. This student was able to put their feelings and experiences clearly into words. Nothing could prepare me for hearing, “I was taken away from mom. I talk to her sometimes, but she really doesn’t want to see me.”

I managed a short response, “I’m sorry. You are special. I love you.”

I cannot possibly understand how this student feels. I could offer a listening ear, a kind word, and a smile. Was that enough? It certainly did not feel like it at the moment.

Thankfully, I am not the only one listening. I work in a school building, a district, and a profession with many other caring adults. Many of them listen to heart-breaking stories every day. And the collective listening and responding do have the power to make a positive impact.

No, I may not have a personal point of reference for these two students. And I know there are many other stories I have not heard. But there is strength in numbers. And tonight, I will rest in that point of reference.

I See You

You walk down the hallway
Eyes forward, downcast
Your expression distant
As if somewhere else
Maybe at home
Maybe your previous school
I don’t know, but
I see you
A storm, churning
Under the surface
Barely able to
Maintain control
I can’t help wondering
What happened to you
What made you
So angry
I smile and say
Good morning
Your glance is quick
Your words inaudible
Standing in the breakfast line
You remain stoic
Surrounded by
An invisible wall
Your actions
Presenting a mystery
I am afraid
To solve
Tomorrow, I will
Greet you again
Hoping for a small
Crack in that wall
Allowing in a little light
To let you know
You are not alone
I see you

I wrote these words after a brief encounter with a new student at school this morning. An encounter that left me sad, but challenged. I have no doubt there is a story. Another one in a sea of many, I’m afraid. Another student in desperate need of connection. Another student facing unimaginable challenges.

I wish my words were an exaggeration. That tomorrow, someone would inform me I was mistaken. That this kiddo was just having a bad day. But I know that is not the case.

And yet, I have hope. Hope that seeing one child at a time, right where they are, can make a difference. ❤

Love to Hope

This was not the subject I planned to write about immediately following Christmas. But I could not ignore the story. A local news headline read, “Toddler critically injured by a gunshot.” None of those words belong in the same sentence, yet here they were again.

An innocent 18-month old baby, sitting in the backseat of a car, had been shot. I don’t know the whole story. Just that someone shot a gun into an SUV and a bullet struck the child.

The shooting occurred the day after Christmas, near my school.
I quickly checked the location of the incident, wondering if I knew the family. Faces of students immediately came to mind. Did they have younger siblings? I didn’t know.

Further investigation showed this specific apartment complex is not one of my school’s neighborhoods. But it was very close.

For a brief moment, I felt relief. And just as quickly, guilt. The reality is a child was shot. And whether or not I have any connection makes the story no less tragic.

I began to wonder. Would my reaction differ if I had known this child or family? Would my anger and sadness lead to action? And if so, what possible action could I take?

Too many unanswered questions. Too many stories repeated. Too many children left with overwhelming emotional scars.

Being a teacher, I sometimes witness the manifestation of these scars. Withdrawal, aggression, and fear top the list. All lead to an inability to connect with others. An inability to trust. An inability to love or be loved.

I teach in a building full of individuals who love every day. We set expectations while recognizing the need for grace. We challenge students while also advocating for them. We mostly smile during the day and sometimes cry at night. I know this is true in other schools as well.

So, how do we continue? Especially in the face of such heart-wrenching stories. We hook arms, grit our teeth, and hold each other up. Remind each other of our purpose. Offer reassurance that what we do each day matters.

We love in hopes of making a difference.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”
Romans 12:9

” Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18

Be Still

As an adult, I understand the importance of being still. Not only to rest but also to listen. When I am still and quiet, important messages do not go unnoticed. A quiet “I love you” or “You’ve been on my mind” provides reassurance and security.

Being still is not automatic. It takes practice. Especially in our fast-paced, instant news world.

What about children? They need quiet moments, too. But if being still is not automatic for me as an adult…well, my expectations for students might need adjusting. Today brought a perfect example.

This afternoon, one young friend entered my classroom running at full speed. The other students were sitting down in rows at the front of the room, preparing for music class. But not this friend. He continued to run circles in the back of the room.

This student’s classroom teacher is kind and patient. She quickly noticed the situation and offered assistance while sharing vital information. The heartbreaking story immediately changed my perspective. Patience was going to be required.

My friend eventually joined the group. But near the end of class, I noticed increased restlessness. “Would you like to sit in my lap?” I asked. “Yes,” he answered with a little smile. Not able to relax, he soon asked to sit next to me instead.

When it was time to line up, guidance was needed. But holding my hand only brought resistance. Not ready to give up, I asked if I could pick him up. “Yes!” he replied and lifted up his little hands.

We played a game while we waited. One I used to play with my own children. I would say, “Are you ready?” Then I would pretend to drop him. Of course, I would “catch” him half-way down. He would laugh and say, “Again, again, again!”

This game was definitely not a still or quiet moment. And this friend definitely needs some quiet moments. Moments where he feels love and security. But those will only happen over time through meaningful connections.

Was our little game one of those connections? Maybe. I hope so. But I’m afraid it will take many more before this little friend can truly be still.

In the meantime, I think I need to be still and quiet. 😉

The Right Question

A recent story on the local morning news involved someone being shot at an apartment complex. There were not many details. One adult shot another adult. While listening to the report I kept thinking, “I wonder if there were any children present?”

Had I heard the same story any morning previous, my reaction might have been different. That is what happens when we view our surroundings through a different lens. Gain a new perspective.

Why did this story have this effect on me on this particular day? Because the day before I attended a professional development workshop for educators entitled “The Trauma-Informed Classroom.” Dr. Barbara Sorrels, author of the book “Reaching and Teaching Children Exposed to Trauma,” was our presenter.

One of the most powerful moments of the day was listening to an actual 911 recording. The voice we heard was a six-year-old little girl named Lisa. Lisa was witnessing a violent attack on her mom and siblings by her stepfather. And it was not the first.

It is difficult for me to imagine the awful things this little girl witnessed. The fear in her voice was almost palpable. Her cries for help were interchanged with moments of extreme clarity. She provided crucial information and displayed incredible bravery.

The screams of this little girl caused a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Once the recording ended, the room remained silent. Dr. Sorrels then asked us to discuss how memories from this event might affect Lisa in the future. What images, smells, sounds, etc. might trigger negative responses from her?

All I could think was, “How can a child be expected to function at school after such a traumatic event?”

The workshop continued with stories of other trauma children, their caregivers, and teachers. We also explored ways to help promote healing.

By the end of the day, I felt emotionally and intellectually overwhelmed. How could I use this information to positively influence my classroom? How could it help me better connect with my students?

Dr. Sorrels encouraged us to start with one objective, helping one child at a time. And then another idea and another child, and so on. I reviewed my notes, and one thing stood out-a comparison of two questions. The questions represent two ways I might respond to a child’s behavior.

What is wrong with you?

What happened to you?

These questions have definitely been asked inside my teacher brain. And more often than not, I asked the first question. I should be asking the second.

So where do I begin?

  • Be mindful that a frustrating “behavior” might actually be a reaction to trauma.
  • Realize my perspective in approaching a child has the power to foster healing.
  • Be willing to ask the right question.

I am a Teacher

Today was professional development.  So much information.  Don’t misunderstand, the issues presented, though challenging, were extremely important and relevant.  There were also moments of encouragement, celebrating what we are already doing successfully.  All in all, it was a productive work day and I enjoyed being with teacher friends.

So why did I have an emotional meltdown on my drive home?

Because even though it is necessary to focus on the hard things, that doesn’t mean it is easy. Topics such as kids facing trauma cast a shadow over the things we want our students to accomplish, the areas we would rather give our energy.  Yes, it is our responsibility as teachers to think about these things.  But unless we honestly share our thoughts, we run the risk of feeling defeated and overwhelmed.

Teacher friends-prop up your feet, take some time to relax.  Tomorrow is a new day and we will be ok.

 

ABC’s and 123’s

Stories, songs, rhymes

Learning to read and write

Learning to add and subtract

What I enjoy

 

Engage and interact

Activities, games, projects

Encouraging imagination

Encouraging creativity

What I hope to convey

 

Teach and learn

Information, plans, revisions

Desiring to do my best

Desiring to be successful

What I want to achieve

 

Trauma and abuse

Conflicts, behaviors, struggles

Learning how to recognize

Learning how to help

What I cannot avoid

 

React and respond

Panic, tears, laughter

Realizing I am not alone

Realizing I am enough

What I must accept