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Archive for November, 2011

Today, I had an opportunity that is far too rare in my experience. The story actually began Tuesday before break. I had two parents come in to meet with me. Their daughter had come to me in August about her habit of cutting and how her parents were trying to get her help. We had discussed the reasons she was cutting and the positive ways to deal with her emotions instead of cutting. I hadn’t really talked to her about it since. Her parents, however, started calling the school. Apparently, they had been trying to figure out who had been talking to their daughter. My name came up, so Tuesday, they came to talk to me.

In our meeting Tuesday, they had expressed their concerns for their daughter. They were hoping to understand what was causing her to cut and how to help her. I was deeply touched by their brokenness and loving concern for their daughter. I can’t imagine the humility it took for them to come to the school (the mom doesn’t speak English) and ask for help. I offered then to meet with them as a family and discuss the strategies to move forward. They gratefully accepted, and we set the meeting for today.

It was a complete surprise to the girl (not the way I would recommend, but how they chose to deal with it.) I set the ground rules of being honest, then asked the girl a series of questions about what the “triggers” for her cutting were. She explained the yelling in her house was a cause. I asked her dad about raising his voice. He explained that he had grown up in another country, very isolated, with little education. “I didn’t have experience in social situations. I don’t know how to communicate well.” I applauded him for his courage to come and admit he didn’t know and ask for help. We discussed ways to “slow down a discussion” and keep yourself calm. He and his wife were able to share with their daughter the things she does that trigger their anger, so we could talk through what each party needed from the other.

While I am not arrogant enough to think we solved everything in an hour, I think we made definite progress in each member of this family learning to communicate honestly and positively what they need from the other. I walked away from the meeting with a deep sense of gratitude for a set of parents who had the willingness to say, “My child is having problems, and I need help to know how to handle them.” I think so many parents have ignored the adage “It takes a village to raise a child,” and have seen the school as an enemy they have to fight instead of an ally with which to stand. I wish more parents were willing to ask for help–even just to find out they’re not alone in the struggle they face. It takes both humility and courage, but it can save a child’s future set the course for strong relationships in the future.

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I have taught “The Tell-tale Heart” for years, but just yesterday (11/1/11), our discussion turned into an amazing teachable moment. I had been sharing about Poe’s troubled past and the speculations of his use of Opium (for which the paranoia in “Tell-tale Heart” makes sense) and his trouble with alcohol which seems to have brought about his demise at the age of 40.

After explaining these details, one of my students asked a very poignant question: “I don’t mean to be inappropriate, but if that stuff made him imagine all these things that made him such a brilliant writer, wasn’t it a good thing?” An interesting question.

I explained that any addiction may seem to have good qualities–a number of kids say that marijuana helps them focus or allows them to deal more easily with stressful situation. The problem is that those advantages are short term. Poe died at the age of 40, delirious in a gutter. That’s not quite the end we long for. What kind of writer could he have been if he hadn’t had an addiction?

Another student piped up, “It’s easy to quit smoking.”

“For some people,” I said. “A lot of that has to do with your family background. If your parents smoke, it’ll probably be a temptation for you. If they drink, you will probably struggle with that as well. That’s why it’s better to stay away from that kind of stuff. When you’ve never tried it, you don’t know what you’re missing. If you have, it’s a lot harder to avoid. And the lie of that kind of stuff is to think you can control it. In the end–like Poe–it ends up controlling you.”

I love when a simple Literature lessons turns into an opportunity to talk about life. That’s why I do what I do…

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