The classroom was buzzing with excitement. Cheerful laughs and boundless energy filled the room as summer vacation drew near. In the midst of the commotion, one student was unusually somber. Little Junie was anxious for summer vacation but did not share the same excitement that her classmates had. While her classmates were enthusiastic about sleepovers and swimming pools, Junie was anxious about the amount of time she will be now spending with her abusive mother. The more time at home meant more opportunities to endure unimaginable abuse that typically only happened in evenings and on weekends. Since school served as her safe haven, where we she now find safety and comfort?
I grew up in constant fear of my mother. I would miss weeks of school at a time as I recovered from beatings that were so severe that I was almost unrecognizable. Beatings like these, getting kicked out of the house when I was still an elementary student, and being held at gunpoint were all part of my “normal” routine. Being on summer vacation meant being on high alert and in a continual self-defense mode. The routine that I had grown accustomed to would become even more violent and brutal. This is how I know that once school is dismissed not all children get to go home to fun family vacations, days spent at the pool or even homes where regular meals are served. While this is a time of year where students are teachers alike are looking forward to some well deserved time off, we need to be conscious that not everyone shares in this joy.
Now don’t get me wrong--I’m looking forward to sleeping in occasionally and not having to schedule my bathroom breaks. However, I also have empathy for so many of our kiddos, like the ones that wonder if they will have enough to eat. My heart breaks for the ones that know they may not feel the embrace of a loving hug or experience affection for quite some time. Thoughts of the ones that are living in constant fear like I did when I was younger will consume my mind throughout the vacation.
Teachers, we have worked hard these past nine months! We have put in endless hours to ensure that we are doing our best for our students. We are tired and exhausted, but we need to finish strong to ensure our students that are anxious have as much stability as possible over the course of the next few weeks. If we can strive to keep students engaged, their minds have less time to experience this angst. Because while this is a time of celebration for most, it’s a time of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty for countless others. Recognize that has the numbers on the end of year countdown go down, anxiety levels in many of our students go up. Remember that when the students are not being the best versions of themselves right now, that every behavior is a form of communication. Lastly, send them off on the last day of school with enough love and validation to last through the entirety of summer vacation.
Enough with the end of year countdowns! Instead of counting the days, let’s count the ways that we can send our students off knowing that they are loved--knowing that they matter!
Selected as the 2017 Missouri Teacher of the Year, Darbie Valenti represents the St. Joseph School District. Darbie just completed her 16th year of teaching and will serve as a Gifted and Talented Educator next school year. She also serves as an adjunct professor at her alma mater, Northwest Missouri State University, and is a proud member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY).
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