Tuesday, February 9, 2016


One of my favorite podcasts is The Moth. They put on events all over the country and internationally for people come forward and share their stories live. Cody and I recently went to a Story Slam where people submitted their story ideas on the theme of 'Strict'. I didn't, nor do I want to share a story in front of a live audience, but I thought it would be a good writing exercise to write to occasionally write to their themes.


I became a teacher at age 25. This is slightly older than many teachers that are straight out of college but to me it felt drastically superior. I had traveled the world. I had worked different jobs. I obviously had a breadth of wisdom that no 22 year old could possibly have. I accepted a position at a 'high impact' school where I had student taught. Working in a school with a high incidence of poverty, homelessness, and refugees would help me earn my stripes. That's why I became a teacher after all, to help the most highly impacted students. With many of these populations, comes unpredictable behavior. I was well aware of this and went into my first year ready for battle.

You learn a lot of things in your teacher licensure program but classroom management is not one of them. For whatever reason, teachers have always been expected to learn this in the moment. I collected some catch phrases like "Never back down" and "Be mean 'til Halloween". So I headed this advice, walked into my classroom with my 'teacher voice,' prepared to strip students of privileges and tabulate their infractions. I could quickly tell it didn't work that well. It never felt right.

I met David*. He exhibits explosive behavior. But David loves games, though he always wants everyone to win. He shares generously with everyone. He loves Doctor Who and skate boarding. His parents moved to Minnesota as refugees from Liberia. He was born here but at age two his mother essentially kidnapped him back to Liberia. His father had no idea where he was or whether he was alive. He had no regular caregiver or confidence in where his next meal would come from for several years. Upon finally returning to Minnesota, he was reunited with his father.

I met Anna. She is defiant. But Anna likes to draw bats on the side of every paper she has and she cried the first time she saw snow. She was brand new to the country from Mexico. Her father had been killed in an accident and her mother was still in Mexico. She lives with her aunt here in Minnesota. It's not clear when her mom will be able to join them but she hopes it's soon.

And I met Lisbeth. She is selectively mute. But she writes prolifically and she wants to be both a doctor and a lawyer when she grows up. She suffers from severe anxiety and the source is pretty much unknown.

I don't do battle anymore. I learned some new phrases like Attachment Disorder and Long-term Sustained Trauma. I do relationships and second chances. I attempt understanding and teach social skills. I'm not saying it's not hard. Sometimes when the implication of the myriad of needs in my classroom hits me, I just want to jump out the window. Oh my god, is it hard. I'm not saying high and consistent expectations, occasional consequences, and positive behavior recognition don't help. But being 'strict' doesn't make it any easier.

*Name of students are changed.


  1. I love this. And appreciate your takeaways - I hope many more teachers realize the same. Generalisms and one-size-fits-all teaching just doesn't work, especially when you're dealing with these populations.

  2. Being a teacher has got to be one of the most difficult jobs.. it's like parenting 30 different personalities but with no real authority or control ha! I love that you teach at a school like this and are so passionate about making a difference. I'll be honest, I plan on homeschooling partly because of my lack of faith and trust in teachers, but you give me hope and are the exception.