Family is a word that I have pondered the last few months. I asked friends and others about family and was struck by the discussions that evolved. No matter where the conversations began, a childhood story or memory would surface. Our families undoubtedly impact us from the beginning, especially when they let us down.
It was early in my teaching career that I felt a tremendous bond with my students, a protection like that of a mother. My students were my babies and I worked around the clock to give them everything I could, often dipping into my own family’s funds to provide the best in field trips and classroom supplies for my young students. My love poured out into everything I did, but eventually it wasn’t enough.
Soon, I received reports from recess and lunchtime yard supervisors that some of my students fought every day. Day in and day out, it proved to be the same group. I spoke to each of the boys involved and began implementing consequences that resulted in daily time outs. It didn’t help. By the start of the next week, the fighting infiltrated the girls’ groups and most of the class was arguing with one another. It was taking up much of our academic time as I noticed glares dart across the classroom at peers. I’d had enough.
One afternoon, the students cleared their desks, and we had a major class discussion. I began by sharing how heartbroken I was by the fighting they had been doing. A student informed me that they had been carrying it over from the previous school year, as if they expected me to accept that as a sane reason and allow them to carry on. In wholeheartedly sharing that I saw them as my own children, I noticed how still and attentive they got. Big eyes widened and their little ears perked up.
Our school promoted being Earth protectors. Many of my young students would wander the vast campus and pick up trash, touting their good deeds for our planet. On that particular afternoon, I asked why they desired to keep our campus so clean. I jotted their reasons on the whiteboard for keeping the land beautiful, enjoyable, healthy, and safe for all. Finally, someone shared showing respect and being grateful for what we have.
That year in Social Studies, the students learned about their communities, the world, and their place in each. So, I drew a circle on a piece of paper which I projected on the screen for all to view. I continued to draw more circles and explained as I labeled each outer area. Our class was like a family. Then, we were part of a greater group which was the school community, then our city, state, country, and our planet. Smiles began to appear across their faces when they saw all that they were a part of just by being born into this world.
At that moment, I drew a heart at the center of all the circles and labeled it “You” as I shared that the goodness and peace of each group did not work without the love of each of them. Then I posed the question once again, “Why are you all fighting so much?” By this time, I knew who the main instigators were.
We sat on the floor in a wide circle as students shared their innermost fears, thoughts, and worries. They were frustrated with how older siblings and cousins had been treating them at home and chose to take that hurt out on their peers. We heard stories of parents traveling often for work or missing grandparents that lived far away. Bravely, a student shared that they were very upset with their parent for arguing with their grandparents, causing them to be apart for some time. Tears were shed while we comforted and supported one another. We made a pact that day to be a family and protect one another rather than hurt each other. We discussed how families fight and let us down and came up with ways to support one another and lead the way for the changes we wanted to see. Without prompting, the students apologized to one another. The remainder of that school year wasn’t perfect because we were a family and arguments arose here and there, but it was nothing like the disrespect we endured in the early days.
Every year after that, I expand on that lesson and to this day, I have students come back to visit and say they miss our family. Many years later, one former student returned to my classroom, eyeing the small desks, and exhaled, saying, “It’s good to be home; I’ve missed this family.”
Family does let us down, but as we prepare to enter the holiday season, may we remember that goodness and peace begin within us. Sometimes we need to let go of the family we were born into and embrace the family we get to choose as friends first.
Anna Rodriguez is a wife, mother, and writer. She is completing her first contemporary novel set in California’s Central Valley. Family and friendships are important themes in Anna’s work because of the influences they have on her life. When Anna is not writing or hanging out with her family, she can be found reading books in many genres or searching for music to add to her eclectic playlist. She recently earned her MFA in Creative Writing.
You sound like a very kind hearted lady. I’m glad your students responded so well. Finding your place in this world is not so easy!
Thank you for reading this and sharing your thoughts. You are so right, it is not easy to find one’s place in the world. For me, it was easier when I knew someone genuinely listened to me, and that’s what I wanted to bring to my students. Thank you for your kind comments.
This is beautiful. Coming from two very broken families, my partner and I vowed to ensure our little family respects each other, there’re no snarky comments, there’re no broken boundaries, there’s accountability and constant family connection, where we communicate with each other several times a day to keep each other on track and to address any hard feelings that arise as soon as they do.
We all have bad days, make crappy choices, and talk poorly to each other sometimes but we admit to our mistakes, take quiet breaks and come back to talk about how our actions will always impact each other whether we want them to or not and it’s a beautiful feeling to see the kids acknowledge each other’s feelings without prompting, and then offer up their own time and thoughts to help one another.
Your classroom setting sounds much like our home, and I’m sure you’d agree that it feels like such a privilege to be able to craft a family, a place to feel safe, for those who don’t quite have a family they can depend on. Thank you for sharing your story Anna 💜
I love this post, Anna. It spoke to me powerfully, both as a teacher and as a member of a family. I love this final statement of yours: ‘Sometimes we need to let go of the family we were born into and embrace the family we get to choose as friends first.’ Although, I have to say, I have worked hard to ensure that my own children don’t feel a need to let go of the family they were born into the way I did. 💖
Sorry, Rebecca and Anna, I don’t know how my comment found its way here.
Rebecca, I love your comment. It is wonderful when each generation works to improve on the former. 💖
No worries Norah! I loved getting the notification to read your thoughts on Anna’s wonderful piece too. Breaking generational trauma is a tough road, and it’s always heartwarming to hear stories like Anna’s of people offering their love and support to those who are struggling through it.
It sure is, Rebecca. Anna’s and yours alike. 🙂
Thank you for reading this and sharing your thoughts, Norah! Being a teacher and a parent are two critical roles in helping to shape whole children who grow into adults with a solid foundation. It’s not easy. I appreciate your line about working hard to make certain your own children remained attached to the loving family you gave them. I worked hard to do the same. Thank you!
We each do what we can to improve the world within our own circle of influence. Thank you for sharing your circle.
Rebecca, I love the time you and your partner have taken to consciously create a home that supports the growth of healthy individuals who understand their impact, both positive and negative, on those around them. As an educator, parent, and citizen of this planet, I wish more homes were modeled in this way. Well done! Thank you for reading this and sharing your thoughts.
Learning that they are a part, a vital part of so much, and can define family for themselves, is a powerful and lasting lesson. Great work.
Thank you for stating this. Knowing that we belong to a greater community, I believe, gives a sense of purpose and responsibility that can greatly lack otherwise.
Ugh, those last few lines–so true and so beautiful. 💞
I remember those circles from school! (Actually, much older, as well, but I digress.) Thanks for sharing this.
Thank you, Sarah! Yes, those circles on the carpet from school days gone by are memorable. Sometimes I wish it were socially acceptable for adults to engage in a circle on the carpet to work out their troubles. Thank you for reading this.
We never outgrow circles like that. I’ll bet Brene Brown would use circles for her employees. 🙂
A wonderful post. The weaving of the caring for the environment with caring for others, the ones around us, is a universal theme we all need to embrace. It gets lost often but one we need to return to again and again.
Thank you for reading this and your kind comments! I agree this is a universal theme that must be reintroduced to ensure a better future. (Just in case some may have missed the lesson in school.)
It seems now that I was in another life, a pre-school teacher. I tried to teach my students about respect. Sometimes our home stresses creep into the classroom from both the teacher and the student.
My own children had a teacher whose expectations for middle school students were that of college students. When students expressed their opinions of this teacher to the other team teacher, the high expectation teacher ‘blew up at the students’. Very inappropriate. But as a parent you have to evocate for your child – and I had to withdraw my child from her class.
Thank you for teaching compassion. Family can be challenging. Especially now being in the middle… the caregiver of elders and of grands – many of us have been in that spot. It takes courage to deal with family that you are not particularly fond of, without hurting them at the same time. Respect isn’t always a two way street. But taking the high road just paves the way for a calmer life.
Continued success, Jules
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Jules. I think resiliency is something that should be taught. I tried to give my students the foundation of resiliency and empathy. Many adults lack it. When that happens, they bring their troubles into the workplace and that affects everyone around them, as you shared. What a blessed and special place to be taking care of elders and the grandbabies! That takes courage, resiliency, and much empathy. Best to you.
I am no longer in that middle place. Each stage of life gives us new challenges. Cheers, Jules
Powerful words, there!
Thank you for reading this and sharing this sentiment, Ritu!
I’m a teacher too. It resonates 🤗
[…] Despite the Let Down […]
Anna, have you finished your MFA? I saw the update in your Author bio! We need to catch up! And form a small cohort from our larger one to make sure we all go on to publish.
Your column is a profound testament to finding a teachable moment in ongoing arguments. We need sitting circles among adults, too. And we all need family in the positive expression of support and growth. What a tremendous feeling to have students come back later and look at your classroom and call it home.
Hello, Charli! Yes, I completed my degree. We do need to catch up. Forming a small cohort would be wonderful. Thank you for reading and commenting on my post. I agree with you about having these circles for adults. If adults could gather and sit around to openly and honestly discuss rather than argue and fight, we’d set a better example for the youth, and probably lay the groundwork for a stronger future.
As a retired teacher of 31 years (mostly in upper elementary), I applaud all your efforts, Anna. Like any skilled teacher, you saw what the more significant issue was. Children aren’t going to learn as well if they first don’t feel safe and loved. I believed in heart-to-heart talks with students. Most teachers are going to understand the feeling that you consider your students like family. They need to hear that as well as when you’re proud or disappointed in them. Straight talk is everything with kids that age.
I taught long enough to teach many second-generation students. Your impact will be felt for years. Even though I’ve been retired for five years, I still have former students (now adults) reach out to me to say thank you or to seek advice with parental advice. God bless you and for all of the other teachers who take these kids, many of who come from dysfunctional situations, and teach them the most important lessons of respect, kindness, and learning to work with others.
Thank you for reading my post and sharing your experience, Pete. I love that you mention telling the students when we are proud of them and when we’re disappointed in them. Letting children know they disappointed us is far more effective than ever having to raise a voice. Hearing they made us proud remains with them for life. Your passion for your work as an educator comes through in your writing. From one teacher to another…thank you for what you did for your students and all the sacrifices you made along the way to do your job well!
How lovely that you were able to create this caring space for your students and stop the battles getting out of hand. We could do with more of that on the political stage.
Thank you, Anne, for sharing your thoughts. I agree with your statement, “We could do with more of that on the political stage.”
What a brilliant connection to make with young minds. We all need those ‘safe’ spaces. Bravo to you, Anna, for making these concepts easy for children to understand.
Thank you for reading my post and for your kind words. You are so right, everyone needs a “safe” place, adults and children alike.
You’re so welcome. I’m glad you joined in. 🧡🍂🧡