Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Student Whispers

In Do You Hear Whispers, Paul writes about how we need to do more than just hear our students but we need to listen to them. We need to listen to what they are saying through words and body language (which are like whispers). After a student suicide, he really became aware of this.

Teaching in a special education class has really taught me to listen to the whispers of my students. I learned this early in my career when my 5th grade student ran away from home and his mom called me up. I joined up with family members to hunt for him in the woods at night. We finally found him and I realized how lucky we were. From then on, I give my students my home number to call and ask them to call me before they do something drastic. I don’t promise anyone that I will be able to stop them but at least I can offer other alternatives for them to look at. This has been very effective over the years and I really think I helped some students. One girl was distraught because her boyfriend said she didn’t love him if she wouldn’t have sex with him. After spending an hour one evening talking to her, she agreed that if he loved her, he wouldn’t say that to her. I finally got her to agree to let me talk to her mom the next day about the situation which helped their relationship and made her stronger emotionally. Another high school student began running away and was missing for 2 weeks before he was returned home by the police. I actually gave him my cell phone number and he gave me his when he felt there were no other alternatives. Again, I think I was able to help him avoid a nasty situation a couple of times by being there for him. Luckily I have a wonderful husband who stood beside me during all these situations and helped support me in doing the right thing.

Many of my students did not get hot meals at home or lived in a volatile environment so they loved being in a safe environment they called school. I saw their anxiety increase as weekends approached. Many got withdrawn or became moody and argumentative on Fridays. Where a lot of teachers and students enjoyed Fridays, this was not usually the case in my class. I kept my Fridays kind of quiet and calm. I played a lot of soothing music and we used a lot of time for discussions. We played a game of “What If” where the students finished the questions and the others would give their suggestions for answers. Many times the questions pertained to what was going on in their homes or with friends. As much as I tried not to be physical with my students (with all the accusations in the papers against teachers), many of my students insisted on giving me a hug on Fridays as they left. If I was really worried about a student, I would call them on Saturday evenings. Our Mondays were like most people’s Fridays. It was a celebration that we had all made it through a weekend. I really looked forward to Mondays because I worried about my students over the weekend. If one of my students was missing on Mondays, it called for an immediate phone call home. This reassured the students who were present that they would be missed and I would be looking for them.

This ability to hear the “whispers” did not come naturally when I was a new teacher. I think I learned from experience just like Paul did. I hope new teachers can learn from our experiences to help them listen to the whispers. It is as important, if not more, as teaching the curriculum. If you show the students you really care and are listening to them, I truly believe that you and your students will be more successful in the classroom.

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