There are different types of teachers. There are the ones who become all of their students’ best friend, who ignore the teacher/student boundaries. They connect with individuals and help them through their difficult times. Then there are the teachers who don’t want to connect on that level. Teaching history or math or English or science, doesn’t require it. Others are simply uncomfortable with getting that close, they don’t want to know that much information.
I sit somewhere in the middle. I have no real desire to be the teacher that becomes friends with my students and some times too much information, is just that, too much information. I believe there is a line. However, I am not indifferent to their personal stories. Over the years I have helped students deal with the death of parents and friends, divorce, and drug use. Like the rest of us, students deal with their stress in different ways. One year, one of my student’s father passed unexpectedly. When she returned, two days later, she told me about it outside the classroom and when class started she took on a lead role in a simulation. She didn’t even miss a step. People cope in different ways; I’ve also seen deep depression and anger when dealing with these life-altering situations.
Regardless of how these students reacted, I have always been sympathetic. These kids need to take care of themselves and their families. In the end, my world history class is not a top priority when a student’s life is falling apart around them. It is not that I excuse these students from tests, assignment, etc. I just work with them – spreading out due dates, extending deadlines, or allow them to take the test at a later time.
I’m sure some might think this is coddling, out in the real world they won’t have these opportunities. Well, yes they will, because they will have co-workers, friends, and family. They will have sick days and vacations. Plus if we can teach them now to deal with this issues in a healthy manner through advice and modeling, then maybe that will help them in the long run.
If you haven’t already noticed, I am a bit of a softie. I’m OK with that, I still have high expectations and not fulfilling them will result in negative consequences, but I always remember that students are people too.