“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Fredrick Douglass

We seem to need a cultural shift.  The majority of families in society seem to be struggling so much. What do we do? How does the average person who can see this have an impact?

I work in a K-12 elementary school.  I am very blessed to work in the library, I am the library assistant.  I service every student and every adult in the building.  In all reality, this means I see everything! I see clearly the struggle of teachers trying to teach state standards to their students, many of which are unable to learn due to their own personal struggles, I see and feel the struggles of these kids daily.  I see administration and counselors working tirelessly day in and day out, often just to be scrutinized by staff for what they “didn’t do” or what they “should have done differently”.  I see paraprofessionals in classrooms supporting full-time teachers and often having inter-personal difficulties between them that there seems to be nowhere to turn for help.  I recently became the ESP representative in our building, sitting on the ESP Advisory Board, to try to help these issues.

The library is a quiet safe space, my students often open up to me, I am a listener by nature.  I enjoy my role and feel I have been placed here.  Our library class is considered a “special” on the kids schedule from Kindergarten through 5th Grade. We have most classes twice a week for 30 minutes. Often the kids are just coming in from recess, or maybe gym, and they walk into the library with unresolved social issues that popped up during their unstructured time out of their academics.  They may walk in bickering or whispering, crying or with noticeable tension, whatever it may be it feels to me to be a teachable moment. They want to talk about it, they want to resolve it, they want help with the way it feels.  The part that I don’t understand and see differently is that they are just shuffled through… “keep quiet, keep in line, come into class we are waiting on you now!”   There is no understanding of one’s feelings, no discussion to what socially just happened… just keep moving, push those emotions aside we have work to do!  I just don’t get that.  Isn’t that something we as adults need to also learn?  What then are we creating for these kids? More disconnect, no communication skills.  What is being taught to these kids about understanding their emotions and how to deal with them as they grow and have even more complex emotions?

We are the library, there is no grade given, there are no tests.  Yes, the literacy piece is undoubtedly important… but my point is, can’t there be 5-10 minutes if it’s needed to help these kids resolve some feelings?  Wouldn’t this be the time for them to be able to take a breath and feel the calm before shuffling along again? I get the lead teachers who need to push content during academic blocks, I get that wholeheartedly,  but I also think this is equally important.  I went to a library symposium recently and it is a fact that libraries are sanctuaries to some of our most vulnerable people in society.  Shouldn’t this feeling be taught to kids in the early years?  The feeling you get from your first library will last a lifetime. That is what I feel is most important in my job, creating an environment that’s bright, cheery, and a welcoming space for all.

The definition of school is an institution for educating children.  “Educating children”… to me that means the whole child, to support the growth and advancement of that little person.  Doesn’t that include mind, body and spirit?  If it doesn’t then I think we’ve turned the wrong direction somewhere along the way in education and may be contributing to some of our societal problems right from the start. Our young people have to be taught how to be people, not just succeed in academics, but succeed as people in a society!!

The school I am a part of does this better than many, I am sure of that!  But knowing that what we do is “better” than most and observing the struggle daily is very unsettling.

I see parents working hard… trying to do the right thing.  But they are having to make tough decisions between family and work just to make ends meet and pay the bills.  The stress that comes along with having to make these decisions leaves them exhausted and lacking patience for what their children need from them to succeed.  Who do we help? Parents, kids, entire families?  Do they even know they need help?  What are the steps communities can take to help?  Where in the world do we start?

I cannot reiterate enough that I see and feel the pain!  I see the hurt!  These kids are voicing it – asking for help!  I see kids at younger and younger ages understanding the dysfunction happening at home but feeling out of control of it themselves.  Imagine 6, 7 and 8 year old children knowing something doesn’t feel right and then living with feeling out of control for an entire childhood.  Those same young people feeling out of control of their environment become teenagers and then adults.  Coping skills and a full tool box of how to combat these feelings are so important to them when they are young.  Do we really question the human disconnect and lack of empathy of school shooters?  They were never listened to, they voiced all along what they needed and they were shuffled along through the halls and classrooms being “taught”.  What are we teaching?

The only motive I’ve EVER seen in a young child’s crying or misbehaving is the motive to be listened to, to be understood, or to simply be loved! Some of the children who act out most are those who need the most!

I was that child… because of my needy-ness I was taught to not like myself very much, that something was wrong with me for “feeling”… this carried over into my adult life and I have found ways to make sense of these things.  I have a loving supportive family, a dynamic husband who listens intently to my often crazy ideas.  But what about the kid who doesn’t have that support as they grow?  They continue to feel stupid, unloved, and misunderstood… What a horrible state of being to be in! Is this what we want to continue to create? I don’t.

“Listen to Your Children Now so They’ll Talk Later”

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