Beliefnet
Beginner's Heart

My students share their lives — with me, with each other. We have a class listserv, which they’re required to post to several times weekly. It builds community — there’s lots of research on classroom community and its benefits — but it also keeps me awake nights…

There’s the young man who shared his suicidal tendencies. As someone who has lived through a former much-loved student’s suicide, this is the hardest. How can you tell them it gets better so that they will believe you? He battles depression — so crippling for anyone, but especially devastating when you’re young, and everyone else seems to be managing fine.

Then there’s the young woman whose mother tells her what a loser she is. Weekly. Sometimes daily. A smart, funny, cute young woman who writes amazing words. This one’s mother I want to just smack w/ a cast-iron pan. What is wrong  w/ this woman??

And there’s the young woman struggling w/ disease, the young man who worries he will become his alcoholic father, the young men & women whose parents are hyper-critical, emotionally distant. This all comes out over the course of a semester: in their postings, in their essays, in classroom discussion. And it’s never easier to face…

In every class, each semester, there are stories from ordinary lives affected deeply by the thoughtless words of others. Worse yet, brilliant lives darkened by the black clouds of family and friends who should be outlawed to some place where they can’t hurt my students. Sometimes I wish I could email a mother, a father, a sister or aunt, the online posting of a devasted 19- or 20-year-old. I wish I could, for a moment, let them see these amazing people — my students — the way I do.

See the quiet boy in the back of the room? The one you told he’d always be no one? He writes beautifully — amazing pieces that explore social issues, incorporate his thoughts with hard research. And that lovely girl you told she’s fat? The size 8, maybe? She’s wasting away — literally & figuratively — because she thinks you don’t love her.

We say we love our children. But we don’t always act it. Today? Tell the children in your life how much you love them. Remind that 20-year-old daughter she’s still your princess. She wants to be. And hug the young man your son has grown into as if he was still 6 years old. Inside, he still is.  I can’t fix things for my students. I wish I could. But you can. Treat them as if they’re very fragile. In my class, you can tell they are…

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