Each week, an educator takes a stand or shares an Aha! moment in the classroom in the Education World Voice of Experience column. This week, educator Brenda Dyck reflects on a recent surprise. Middle school students are known for their self-absorption and apparent inability to nurture the adults in their lives. The recent death of a teacher's father, however, spurred a genuine and caring reaction from students. Recognizing this as an encouraging sign, Dyck reflects on the value of surrounding young people with adults who model care and service, an association that may ultimately equip students to take on the role of peer comforters themselves.
Recently, a wave of concern flooded our school as we confronted bullying, female aggression, and even a lockdown perpetuated by a parent on the warpath. Feeling as though we were living in an emotional war zone, teachers wondered what to do next. We tried to get used to teaching behind closed doors and dealing with indoor recess.
In the middle of this chaos, like a breath of fresh air, floated an unexplainable phenomenon -- one that gave me hope that a safe, caring learning community is not only worth working for but may be within our grasp.
Middle school students are known for their self-absorption and apparent inability to nurture the adults in their lives. Those of us who work with them come to expect this behavior. We accept it. We excuse it by saying that 11- to 14-year-olds are "in process" and will learn how to support those around them "someday." In my class of sixth and seventh graders this week, the future made an unexpected appearance.
After reading my morning e-mail, I shared some sad news with my students. Their guidance counselor's father had died the night before. As we discussed this event, I reminded students that this teacher's mother had died only a few months ago. This time would be doubly difficult for their counselor.
Before I knew it, one of the students started making a large sympathy card for the teacher. The following message was written across the top of the card:
You Were There 4 Us
Now We Are Here for You
Classmates hovered around the card. Each student took a turn to write comforting words. Groups of students took the card around to the other middle school students. By the end of the day, the card, crammed with words of care and comfort, was carried to the school office so it could be delivered to their teacher. The card was testimony to a teacher who modeled care and support in a way that equipped these young people to give it back.
As I thought about this display of sensitivity, it became clear to me that educators are always being presented with opportunities to prepare students for care-taking roles, first by modeling and later by releasing them to take on those roles themselves. Such opportunities might take the form of service projects or student leadership or peer counseling opportunities.
In London, England, a wildly successful peer support program identified positive outcomes for students who received training to be peer supporters. Those students
As we seek to educate the whole child, service projects, student leadership, and peer counseling opportunities can become a powerful training ground. Through such opportunities, we can nurture young people who may one day, in a moment of need, take on the role of "peer comforter" -- and everyone will wonder where that ability to rise to the occasion came from!