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Teachers Need to Know
Parenting from the Source
Carole Bell
By Carole A. Bell, Licensed Professional Counselor

Everyone in the sixth-grade classroom was working in pairs to create a news story for an imaginary television station. The news anchor was to report on a breaking story about Pope Urban II's call for an army to help the Byzantines and free Jerusalem, an action considered by many to be the beginning of the Crusades. The steady buzz of voices and the search for information on tablets told Mrs. McDowell she had chosen a topic and format that engaged the interest of eleven-year-olds. There's nothing like getting to be a news anchor—even if it's only pretend.

She had leaned in to help two girls when a commotion broke out in the opposite corner of the room. Looking up, she saw Matthew stand, shove Nate, and yell, "You don't know what you're talking about. Who made you the authority on news stories?"

Nate stood up. Before he could say anything, Mrs. McDowell took both boys out of the classroom. When they returned to their seats, they went back to work, although they were not smiling.

Mrs. McDowell walked around the room checking on projects, but kept a watch on the boys. Matthew was one of her best and most courteous students. She'd never had any trouble from him. What was going on? Perhaps she'd call his parents after school

Mrs. McDowell faced a situation not uncommon to teachers: a student acting out in class. However, when behavior is atypical, as it was with Matthew, there's usually a crisis in the student's life.

Mrs. McDowell spoke with Matthew's mom and found that Matt's parents had separated the night before. A big fight kept Matthew awake into the morning hours. And, according to his mom, his dad "was gone who-knows-where, and I certainly don't care." Mrs. McDowell could only imagine what Matthew's morning had been like.

Had she known before class, Matthew's teacher might have reached out to him with an extra bit of encouragement and prevented the expression of his pent up anger.

Everyday kids go to school with larger burdens on their backs than a heavy backpack. Adult problems—a marriage crisis, illness, and financial worries—happen, but they not only affect the adults concerned. They spill over onto the kids, especially those who only hear bits and pieces and are left to fill in the gaps with false or incomplete information. And of course, death in a family—even outside the immediate family—affects everyone.

Modern technology has made it easy to communicate with your child's teachers. An e-mail to the teacher does not need to go into details or overflow with emotion: "Matthew's dad and I are having problems. This may be a tough day for my son, because his dad left last night."

If Mrs. McDowell had received such an email from Matthew's mom, she might have made the day less trying for him. The incident with his friend Nate might even have been averted.

When you or your family is in crisis, touch base with your child's teacher. And if there's an on-going situation such as a family member battling cancer, share that with teachers. A caring teacher may not completely ease your child's anxiety, but she can help.

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