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Last week, I wrote about the increasing burden on teachers, in part leading to a shortage in the profession. Part of this dealt with all the other hats we have to wear. If you don’t mind, I’d like to expand on that this week and be a bit brusque in my outlook.

When I started teaching 20 years ago, many of the problems we had to keep an eye on were in dealing with kids whose parents were going through a split. We’d hear about this and always be aware of how tough that might be, showing empathy and knowing that sometimes there might be unusual actions from these students. We didn’t judge; we just tried to help guide the students through this difficult time in their lives.

Today we aren’t told about these things. We also don’t know about many other outside issues which might influence a child’s behavior such as problems with the law, suicidal tendencies, and a cornucopia of other areas of concern, many of which we veterans never dreamed of having to deal with.

And that’s part of the problem: we get told to keep an eye on someone, but often not why. This is in large part due to privacy concerns. Sometimes parents give permission for us to know what’s going on, but most times we don’t have a clue. This is detrimental to our ability to help. What exactly should we be noticing? It certainly varies from one scenario to the next.

Back to the original example, what I look for in a child in a household going through a divorce is vastly different than what I should see in a kid who had a parent arrested the night before or the student who has hinted at wanting to take his or her own life. Teenagers act funny and different on the best of days; if we know more specifics, there are some crucial variances we can spot.

Sometimes living in our small communities gives us the chance to know what is going on, even if we’re not told. Word spreads quickly about town, and we often learn more from students coming to us to talk about something than we do from any administrator. I understand some need for privacy in some situations, but then I’d rather not know there’s even something occurring. I’d be more likely to notice something being off if I didn’t have a long list of kids who have issues that I can’t know the details about. Either tell me what’s going on or don’t tell me anything at all.

And here’s where the problem becomes exacerbated. There are many cases where the school is treating some students with extreme examples of kid gloves. And the kids know it. An increasing number of them will look for as many crutches as they can to avoid the tasks placed before them. It’s gotten to the point where, if a student asks to see a counselor or therapist on staff, I just say no unless they have a pass from that person. These kids figure they can use the fact that we teachers don’t know much, if anything, about their situation to wander about and miss class consistently.

Hey, I get it. There are some serious problems with a greater amount of our students than ever before, many of them related to mental health. But we’re including many kids under these umbrellas because they’ve learned how to work the system. I fill out paperwork all the time about kids looking to qualify for special services and most of it is laughable, but required by the government.

I sat at a meeting for a student recently where the child was asked about why work wasn’t being completed. Too many leading questions were asked: “Is it too hard? Do you not understand it?” This is like asking your young child if specific areas of the body hurt. Rather than ask if their ears or their tummy hurt, a parent should ask the child to tell where it hurts; otherwise, they will tend to agree with anything you suggest.

The same was happening at this meeting. I spoke up, as I am wont to do, and gave my theory: a mixture of stubbornness and laziness. The work wasn’t always easy, but the student had shown previous ability to do it just fine. Let’s not rule out the obvious reasons right away. Again, some of these kids are getting pretty good at getting what they want, which is less responsibility.

I often tell students that excuses are like belly buttons: we all have them, but they don’t do us much good anymore. If I had a dollar for every kid who had an iPad about to run out of charge, I’d be a lot closer to retirement. Why wasn’t your iPad charged last night? Is your phone fully charged? You know, there’s another set of holes in the same outlet where you should plug in your VERY IMPORTANT device that you need for school. Every one of us has forgotten to charge up something at some point, but the repeat offenders for that and non-completion of school work are troubling, along with their excuses.

Sometimes a child is just trying to get out of work and we’re handing them excuses. Stop trying to make everybody feel like singing “Kumbaya” and get to the heart of the problem. Otherwise, leave us out of it.

Word of the Week: This week’s word is apricity, which means the warmth of the sun, as in, “On an otherwise dreary day, the teacher stepped out into the sudden apricity caused by a parting of clouds and found a smile.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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