“You can’t save them all.”
Usually it’s in a response to tears I shed when I lose a student to suspension, a move within the foster-care system, or a miscarriage of justice, such as legally not being allowed to live in the more stable of two homes. So many times people tell me I can’t get too invested: I have no control over their home life, I can’t make the right decisions for them, I can’t change a judge’s order.
And while it is true there are SO many things out of my control, there are SO many more things in my control.
So many kids today are facing trauma from parental separation, are victims of abuse, shuffled through a difficult foster care system and learning to live with chronic mental illnesses. They are warriors in a battle they are grossly under-prepared for and often times, they are fighting these battles alone. Without guidance and love from an adult who goes all in to prove there IS someone who will unconditionally love them and keep them safe, what is the future like for that child?
I will tell you: bleak.
As one of my students said to me, “Why would I tell an adult what happened to me when it was the adult that abused me?”
Her words stopped my in my tracks. Why confide in a stranger when you can’t even rely on those you live with to keep you safe? So while I can’t save them all, I (and you) can do so many things.
You can’t save them all. But you can be a safe haven for them. My students know they will have a calm, safe environment. There are high expectations but also a supportive setting to sort out all that they are struggling with. Whether it be a student or a classroom friend of my child, any child in my classroom, or in my home, will know that if I am there, they are safe.
You can’t save them all. But you can feed them. Hunger is real. We live in the richest country in the nation yet so many families do not have enough food. There are fewer sadder sights than a teenage boy begging me for any extra food because the free lunch barely meets the needs of a teenager whose body and brain are trying to grow. I bring extra food from home and they are usually the healthiest options. Apples, clementines, cheese sticks. When a student asks me for extra food and they readily accept the healthy options I offer, I know they were *truly* hungry.
You can’t save them all. But you can spend time with them. I spend a few days after school a week with kids who just don’t want to be home. Working on homework with their teacher is better than going home. Let that sink in. Sometimes, a child would rather stay at school with their teacher and do extra work than go home. It may mean an extra half hour for my own kids in aftercare, but my kids will be ok.
You can’t save them all. But you can tell them you love them. Over the course of the years there have been students who I have loved as my own. Students who took a risk in opening up to me, letting me in their world and allowed me to prove to them that adults can be trusted. When a child trusts you with their trauma, their anxieties and fears, the maternal instinct really takes hold and you care and look after them as if they were your own. When I hug them goodbye for a summer, or forever, and say to them “I have loved you as if you were my own,” I know their last memory of my classroom will be that they were loved.
So, no, you can’t save them all. But if one mom grabs hold of one kid who is at-risk, together, we can save them all.
Get involved. In your child’s school, in their extracurricular activities, mentor, support community projects. Time you invest in a child is never a wasted moment.