|A sea of unfamiliar faces, each with their own "story".|
Typically, today I would be standing in front of a sea of slightly groggy faces. Some familiar, but likely a good portion of unfamiliar ones as well. After 17 years as an educator, this moment still fills me with some anxiety. Not because I'm not thrilled to start a new school year, but because I know that each and every one of those unfamiliar faces has a "story" behind it, and that the longer it takes me to learn that story, the less effective I will be as an educator. At the high school level, that could mean roughly 100 "stories" to learn, as quickly and as effectively as I can. No small task.
Each of us, adult or child, comes with a story or context that informs our behaviour and our actions. Unfortunately, given the hectic pace of daily life, we are often too busy, or sometimes unavoidably immersed in our own stories to have the time, that most valuable of commodities, to look beyond the surface. Recently a friend of mine had a bit of a run in with another driver. With her children in the car, my friend was angry that this "reckless, irresponsible" driver (my words- she used slightly different ones) would endanger her children. Completely understandable. Like so often happens in this digital age, my friend happened to vent her frustration in a semi-public forum, and through this it was discovered that the "reckless" driver had in fact just lost a treasured family pet that morning, and was having a very difficult day. This was her story, her context. I'm not suggesting that my friend could have taken the time in that moment to discover this, and regardless, her children's safety was her utmost concern. What I am suggesting is that we approach every individual that we come across in our day, adult or child, with the understanding that they each have a story, and that on any given day this context may inform their seemingly inexplicable behaviour or actions.
With my students, it takes time, and a great deal of concerted effort to learn their stories. And each member of our school community might be privileged to learn different aspects of this story- counselors, administrators, clerical and janitorial staff, support staff... and the list goes on. Together, we comprise a community of caring, supportive adults that are all working to do the best that we can for our students. (See "The Heart of a School" http://www.teachergarr.blogspot.ca/2014/04/the-heart-of-school.html) This is exactly why open and effective communication in a school community is so essential. Yes, our students trust that some of the information that they share with us will be kept confidential, and we are governed by a professional code of conduct, but in other instances, it is vital that we are able to rely on our colleagues to help us learn each of our students' stories. Our job is not simply to fill empty vessels with facts and figures, but to recognize that they are entering our schools already "filled" with unique, and sometimes, unfortunately, very difficult stories.
My most treasured time of the school year is that moment when I feel like I can finally look out at that sea of faces, and they are no longer unfamiliar. They are faces that have been shaped by countless unique and diverse experiences. They are faces that will be further shaped by their experiences in their classrooms, and in their school community.
What a responsibility. What a privilege.