Today was a bad day. It’s all the stinky dog’s fault. Alright, it is not the animal’s fault. It has been extremely cold, and our older dog with arthritis needs to come in. Not perfect, but it is what you get when you accept the responsibility of an animal. I grabbed a suit jacket off a chair (In hindsight, I should have asked myself, “why wasn’t it on the hanger?!”) and headed out the door. Partway to work, I realized the suit had a musty dog smell. Most likely, it had fallen off the hanger, and our pet must have used it as a pillow before someone kindly picked it up off the floor.
By the time I was halfway to school, the car smelled like wet, musty dog, and my sleeveless shell underneath was not going to be effective for the day. Yuck. It was nasty, and I was embarrassed. Let’s just say that I kept my distance for the first group of students, because I certainly did not feel a sense of belonging.
Fortunately, I had prep time after my first class. I detoured to a local store and grabbed a clean outfit, checked out, ran and changed clothing and headed to supervise my next class. I was anxious, frustrated, and frazzled. The good news? I had a clean set of clothes and the day was ready for a reboot.
The entire experience made me reconsider a cafeteria experience that happened today. I was with two paraeducators in the cafeteria, and one young man motioned me over to his table. He was a 6th grader, eager to tattle. He whispered in my ear, “See that kid at the end? He keeps saying nasty words.” I thanked him, and asked him to try to remember to be kind. Then I turned my attention to the other kid and waited for 30 seconds, just thinking about the situation and trying not to be too obvious.
This young person had a sweatshirt on, messy hair, and had an arm sprawled across the table. His head was down, and as I approached, he shouted at another boy, “Leave me alone. My grandma is dying of !!#$@ cancer, and no one can (#@$# fix it.” And you know, as I escorted the young person to an adult who knew him well enough to process the anger, I found myself thinking about stinky, no good times in life. Unlike my situation, there was no easy solution, and I had no idea if Grandma was a primary caretaker, or if his sense of belonging was threatened.
Anxiety and frustration and anger can easily become a daily pattern in all of our lives. Over and over today, I was reminded of that reality in a new way, and I found myself pondering how to create an environment where we can acknowledge failures and frustrations as well as our strengths and successes. That goes beyond hope and encouragement (yes, those still matter) to empowerment and learning skills self-advocacy. It’s a big job, and it takes community partners as well dedicated, individual teachers.
Maslov and the hierarchy of needs are a tool often forgotten as we work together to discuss the possibilities for our students of today. That’s a gaffe on our part, because we hope these kids will become the future of our communities. I wonder how many business leaders have looked at schools through that lens in the last 5 years, and what they would say if they did?
As we reimagine education, we often think of schools as places where the bottom two levels are part of our mission, but 21st century learning skills are found at the top of the pyramid. How can we create structures where students can become effective advocates focused on their own learning journey if we don’t find spaces in our communities that fill the needs of the middle?
Today started out as a stinky day, and that’s because of a mistake I made. I keep teaching because lots of kids have stinky days over which they have no control.