The older I get the more I realize our lives are made up of simple truths. Those truths are obscured by the noise of everyday distractions, but periodically we can be reminded to “think simple.”
I’ve just read a blog post that reminded me of this simple truth:
until we walk in someone else’s shoes we just don’t know the struggles they face.
Were they born a jerk/*sshole/b*tch or did life beat them down into one? Conversely, were they born to be really nice and considerate, or did they overcome adversity to be that way? Or, are they just having a bad or good day that we happened to interact with?
Another simple truth: most answers are probably somewhere on a spectrum between two poles. As a solidly concrete person who doesn’t like “doubt” and who appreciates a world of black and white choices, I’ve learned that life is legitimately full of “gray.”
Back to the blog post that started me thinking. It was reprinted in November 2014 in a Washington Post article by Valerie Strauss. The post, titled, “About THAT kid (the one who hits, disrupts and influences YOUR kid” was clearly written by a very gifted teacher, Amy Murray. Amy reminds us there is much we do not know about her, her day, and each of her students. She asserts we, the parents of simply one child in her classroom, can’t know the challenges that face the disruptive children she’s been charged with educating this year and all the years she has taught. On one hand, she’s right. On the other, we as parents of non-disruptive children must be advocates for our children. Where is the line between being part of a supportive community for those children who are disruptive in school and defending the right of your child to have an optimal education in a safe environment? Back to the earlier simple truth: somewhere on a spectrum. The reason it is on a spectrum is because both disruptive and non-disruptive kids have a right to the best educational opportunities they can be offered. It is also true that very difficult equation must be navigated every day by their teachers and fellow students. The two poles: disruptive kids can’t physically harm their classmates or completely derail a day’s learning goals and non-disruptive kids can’t expect a perfect learning environment every minute of their school day. I know this gray area well.
I remember David K vividly. I, who have always had trouble remembering last names not only remember his last name but how to spell it. He was in my elementary school classes for four years (fourth grade through eighth). He twitched, gesticulated, spoke loudly and out of turn, didn’t listen to the teacher (or anyone) and disrupted classroom learning every day. Some days his outbursts were few. Occasionally he was mildly violent (I acknowledge this oxymoron), striking or kicking without inflicting real damage.
To this day I can’t guess David’s diagnosis(es) but I give all those teachers a heck of a lot of credit. They balanced his needs with the need to get their lesson plans accomplished. On “bad” days, David would be escorted out of the classroom for as long as he needed to become more calm — on his “good” days no one acknowledged the disruptions. We learned from our teachers how and when to interact with David and when to disregard his provocations. Suddenly I’m thinking of the sad movie “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” If you’ve never seen it, bring your hankie. Gilbert’s brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and David K had some behavioral things in common.
As someone to whom learning came relatively easily, I think on balance I learned enough of the critical elementary education subjects along with an awful lot about life, coping, and yes, empathy, from having David in my classes. David made me wonder about what life would be like for others who struggled so. He also aggravated the heck out of me. Part of the “gray” here is that I can’t speak about how his presence may have affected the formal and informal learning of our fellow classmates.
So my early 2015 musings have led me to a few simple truths: life can be difficult in visible and “not-visible” ways for each and every one of us. We need to be patient and kind as possible with each other. We need to learn and adapt to whatever situation we find ourselves in, and we need to start learning it at a young age. And, finally: good teachers are a really wonderful gift to us all.
It’s good to be back! I look forward to hearing from you in 2015 — Happy New Year!
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