I guess you could call me a jack of all trades kinda gal. Not in the sense that I am an excellent cook, house cleaner, repairman type of lady--but I do a lot of different things professionally. You know me as a blogger, a social media influencer, and/or professional photographer...but the one that I don't talk too much about here, is that I am a full time special education teacher.
It has actually been seven years that I've been in the classroom. After undergrad, I got my Masters degree in special education, with a specialty in emotional behavior disabilities (as well as learning disabilities). My sister in law worked (still works) at a children's' psychiatric facility and after subbing there several times, I knew that's where I wanted to be too. I was drawn to the type of students that were there, and I felt as if it would be there I could make the most difference in children's' lives. Flash forward some, and that's exactly where I ended up.
To me there is a really big difference between kids who grow up having resources, who live in safe and loving homes, compared to those who have been in and out of foster care and who haven't been shown what appropriate and safe love looks like. The word 'bad kid' gets tossed around both in social circles and really, in society as a whole. Are either kid, those who have 'normal' lives and those that don't, bad? No, I don't think that's the proper word to use; but I want to take some time to talk about the latter of our youth--the ones who are shifted from family to family, who don't have a stable home, and how really I believe society has no idea WHY these children are demonstrating 'bad' behaviors.
A homeless child is one who doesn't have a regular or fixed nighttime residence, so that means kids who are not living with their parents, or legal guardians; and those who live in shelters, hotels, who transition from juvenile justice programs, and between foster care. As of 2015, Kentucky was actually ranked as being one of the worst states for youth homelessness. I really had NO idea what this meant or rather, what it looked like, until I had my first [that I KNEW of] homeless student. Every single day, he came into my classroom angry, looking to pick fights with peers, finding ways to be defiant with me, and he was rarely ever interested in school work. I never knew until one day I asked him to come out in the hallway with me to speak privately. "How are you doing, Man?" I asked him. "Eh, I'm okay. My mom is getting a new van which will be better to sleep in." "Sleep in??" I asked. "Yeah, we just have a four passenger car right now and I can't sleep."
Here I was, teaching a math lesson [I remember it well], and getting frustrated that this student wasn't paying attention...and he didn't have a BED to sleep in. He was in fourth grade, y'all...already labeled as an EBD kid (emotional behavioral disorder), and yet we wonder WHY some of our youth act up? I know how nice of a person I am when my sleep gets cut short in my own plush, comfortable bed...let me tell you how great I would do sleeping in a CAR.
In a 2013 article it was recorded that the amount of kids in my county who do NOT have a place to call home, would fill 176 school buses. There were over 12,000 students recorded as being homeless during the 2011-2012 school year, and that the percentages range from 4% to 26% within the district and their different regions. Let's hope that numbers have changed drastically since that information is five years old, but I didn't do extensive research. Are behaviors chalked up to only the homeless kids though?
My husband is also a teacher; he specialized in the same field, but he works in a regular school setting. (Whereas I am technically in a special school within the district, if that's confusing.) He has a second grade student who was left home alone ALL night, while her mom went to work. The student was told 'to go to bed,' and that her grandfather would pick her up in the morning. Do you think this eight year old slept well that night? Or came into my husband's classroom ready to do SCHOOL work? What about the child who was locked in a cage for most of his early life? He was fed through bars, locked in the dimly lit basement, and abused when he was out of it. Probably many of you have read the well-known book A Child Called It? Did you know that that book is not so far removed from reality of today's youth?
Before I became a teacher and was put face to face with the students such as these, I had NO idea. My education was fairly nondescript, not in a bad way at all. I just mean that I don't really remember my classmates having aggression or fits of rage or mood swings or opposition towards teachers. That doesn't mean it wasn't there, it just means I wasn't exposed to it. My personal childhood wasn't perfect, but I was deeply loved and because of that, I built resilience towards the things that I faced in life. Many of the students I have are enduring trauma time and time and time again, and their developing brains are NOT able to build resilience. Most people are able to adapt to life-changing situations or stressful circumstances because they have a healthy dose of resilience; but this is something that requires time and effort, and a process that involves numerous steps. Relationships that foster love and trust is one of the number one ways to help boost an individual's resilience--so think about the children who know nothing about this. Having positive role models who offer encouragement and reassurance is another important step--and what if your role model was a drug addict, or a guardian who never built you up?
I recently heard someone say, "Oh he's just bad," in regards to a former student, and honestly, that's what triggered this post. Even my students will apologize in sentences such as, "I'm sorry I was bad, Mrs. Glass." Or say, "My goal today is to not be bad." We have conversations OFTEN about how each and every child that is in my classroom is not a BAD child. Whether or not you choose to believe the phrase, 'there's no such thing as a bad child,' from the bottom of my heart, I think over half of struggling children are the products of their environments. Really aren't we all? Each child has the strength and resilience to overcome their environment, but the sad reality is that most do not realize their strength until it is too late. Part of my calling is to teach children how to overcome the obstacles life throws at them--much like a parent is supposed to do.
Maybe you are a parent, like me. And maybe you too are a fellow teacher. Wherever you are and no matter your role, I encourage you to re-think the adjective 'bad,' and as hard as it is (coming from experience) try to be more patient with a struggling child. Some of us may NEVER know the type of environment a child is being raised in, but I can tell you that for too many, it isn't a good one.
**There are no bad children. There are bad choices. There are bad moments. There are bad situations. But there are no bad children. Period." -L.R. Knost "The Gentle Parent."