People often ask, “What’s the hardest thing you deal with in education?”

Time after time, I have had people ask me, “What do you do for a living?” When I have responded that I worked in education, whether it was when I was a teacher, coach, assistant principal, or principal, I have had the same responses from the questioners. Typically, many say, “Oh that’s great, but I couldn’t do that job!” “Must be nice to get all of those days off!” “Y’all need a raise!” “I don’t know how you deal with all of those bad kids and their parents!”

I am in my 24th year as an educator working 17 of those years in middle school and the past 7 in elementary school. I have had about 14,000 kids cross my path over the years. On any given day, a plethora of situations can easily answer what’s the hardest thing I deal with in education. It could be behaviorally challenging students, or parents, poor performance from students, poor performance from teachers, budget constraints, inadequate facilities, technology failing, language barriers, policy changes, the need for more resources, etc. Regardless of all of those situations, I (we) do what we do for these kids that come every day with what we have. We make better kids than what we started with!

You may think that those are big challenges, but here is my biggest struggle in education. Year after year, I have students enter the school/ classroom with baggage and history that you can’t possibly imagine. These situations you’d think you’d only see in the movies. These children endure hardships that are beyond their control, yet they walk in with big beautiful eyes, big dreams, and big hopes. They walk into our buildings knowing that this is their safe place. They know they have breakfast and lunch. They know there is running water. They know there are smiling faces ready to give them a hug making them feel a part of something. They know there is a caring adult that will work with them.

You see, my hardest part of my job is also my biggest motivation. Kids are a product of their environment. Kids don’t come in this world wanting a split family, or abuse, or fending for themselves. They grow and adapt to the situations they are dealt. Many nights I put my head on my pillow and cry. It’s a wonder how many kids made it this far in the situations they endure.

Still trying to understand what I am saying? Let me elaborate.

  • Kids going home to an empty house with no electricity and no food because the parent is out on a date
  • Kids going home to no running water and roaches everywhere you turn
  • Kids going home to a one bedroom one bathroom home to be shared with 12 others- multi- family
  • Kids that have watched a parent pass away
  • Kids coming to school with bruises from abuse from their older siblings
  • Kids coming to school with bruises from abuse from their parents
  • Kids coming to school with clothes that are 3 sizes too small
  • Kids coming to school filthy and in the same clothes as the day before
  • Kids that are being raised by grandparents because their real parents don’t want to parent and are not responsible
  • Kids that come from foster parents because their situation was so terribly bad they were removed from their parents
  • Kids that have the front of their tennis shoes cut open because the parent can’t afford new shoes for the kid’s growing feet
  • Kids that have an incarcerated parent
  • Kids that have seen the police at their home more times than they can count
  • Kids that go home to fix dinner and care for the other siblings while their parent is passed out or not home
  • Kids that watch their parents do drugs
  • Kids that have medical needs and parents do not get them the help they need
  • Kids that have behavioral problems as a result of neglect from their parents
  • Kids that go home and are locked in their room for hours or days

This job gets harder and harder as those kinds are kids are more prevalent than before. Those kids pull at my heartstrings. I shake my head in disbelief watching them persevere through the situations they live. They certainly have resilience! They didn’t ask for it, but they are handling it the best they can.

Our job is to help them. Our job is to love them. Our job is to affirm them. Our job is to model appropriate behaviors. Our job is to protect them. Our job is to report if we believe something is not right.

Please stop and think before you start judging a kid for their behavior. There may be something hidden deep in their past. Capture their heart and help them through the situation.

Love them anyway.

Now, excuse me while I go hug my children.