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Archive for the ‘Counselling’ Category

A student told me today that I was almost like an angel or a saint—“One of those people who never do anything wrong.” She listed the traditional “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll” kinds of activities. At the time, I explained that I had made choices based on a long-term perception of how I wanted my life to be and the conversations I didn’t want to have with my spouse. I then launched into a discussion of how our choices affect our lives, specifically in the areas of sex and drugs.

I realized, however, as I thought about it, that I didn’t make good decisions because I was so wise as a teenager, but because I wasn’t around all the stuff these kids are. I didn’t know anyone who was divorced when I was in junior high or anyone that wasn’t living with both biological parents (unless one of them had died.) I couldn’t have found drugs if I wanted them (except on a family trip to New York when I was offered crack), and I knew very few people who drank in high school—and those only by reputation, never around me. It’s an entirely different world from the place my students live.

To allow others who may have been similarly sheltered to understand what my students deal with, I wanted to type out a portion of their stories in their own words. The writing is in response to an autobiography project that I assigned. They started with a list of five events that had impacted their lives. Then, they could either pick one to tell in detail or all five in summary. Those were the only instructions I gave them. I got a few “When I got my tongue pierced” or “The day I met my best friend” essays, but more were much more tragic. I think for me the greatest tragedy was the realization that for these kids, there was nothing abnormal or weird about sharing these stories—it is their “normal.” I asked them for permission to share their stories with you. So here they are, in their voice, the stories of their lives :

1. When I was young, my mom lost custody of me and my brother. My grandma [name] got custody. They are still fighting for us today. My brother has seizures, so he’s kind of mental. I have two sisters and three brothers. My mom and dad were never married.
Now, my mom is engaged and my dad is now married. My dad has been married for five years almost. My family is kind of hectic. My grandma is married and has been married for six years. I moved here from [location]. I’m hoping that I’ll move down there next month after the ninth. I haven’t lived with my mom for seven years. I moved here in the third grade when I was nine. . . .

2. The first thing I remember is police busting through the door arresting my dad for drug trafficking. I was small. I’m not sure how I remember this, but Tupac’s “Hail Mary” was playing and the stove was on. My mom and I were crying.
Another memory from my childhood is me, about three now, sitting in a tub. My mother was washing my feet. I cried because the water was too hot. I got burned.
I remember when I was thirteen, when my dad was arrested again—on Christmas. My mom went to rehab for alcohol abuse. My brother and I cried together.
I remember being forced to share a house with my grandparents, staying outside all day, playing football and basketball with my brother.
I remember my first fist fight. I won. But, I felt so bad.
I remember the first time I thought I was cool and try a cigarette. I coughed my lungs out. I almost died. Ha-ha. . . .
I remember a lot of things. Negative or not, the memories have made and shaped who I am today.

3. Birth. My parents got divorced. My dad got remarried. My mom got remarried. I ended up with two sisters and three brothers on my mom’s side. My step mom told me she was pregnant on my birthday. Worst birthday ever because I wanted to be Daddy’s little girl. Sixth grade, my little sister was born. I was scared. My mom took my dad to court for custody of me. We lost. My dad wouldn’t talk to me for a few weeks after that. Seventh grade, I got in my first fight. I was afraid my dad was going to kill me, but he just said as long as I didn’t lose, then I wouldn’t be in trouble. And now, here I am.

4. When I was a little kid, my dad was not a good one. He is/was a drug addict. My mom had me at a young age and wasn’t married to my father. My mom had me in April, and they got married in September. She married him because she thought he would change. But, he didn’t change. He would steal my mom’s car and leave. When he left, he would go get high on cocaine or marijuana and stay out until it wore off. When he would come home, he would make up lies about where he was at. My mom dealt with it for a long time. Then, I found out that my mom was pregnant with my sister. She had my sister and still put up with his crap. In August [year], they finally got divorced. I was sad about it, but then I got over it. He couldn’t keep a job and was in jail a couple of times. In March [year], I got a call that my dad wanted to see me. I went home and saw him. He was with my cousin. My cousin and my mom were talking, and my dad took me in my room and said he wanted to talk to me. We sat on my bed and he started to cry. He had been doing drugs and told me that he didn’t want to live anymore. I screamed and started crying. My cousin and my mom ran in the room and asked what happened. Then, they left, and I didn’t see my dad for a while. In October [year], my dad went to jail for a month and a half. It was sad, but then again, oh well. He is now sort of stable and has a job. But, if any of that wouldn’t have happened, my mom probably wouldn’t be the woman she is now and wouldn’t have raised me like she did. I probably wouldn’t be as strong as I am now and independent.

5. I grew up in a house with four rooms two bathrooms. I lived with my mom, dad, and two sisters. This was until I was six. My mom decided to move out and get a divorce. We went to my aunt’s house for a couple of days, then moved out to [location.] I lived there from [time]. I went to first and second grade in [location]. We had moved in with my uncle. Things got bad between me and his daughter, so we went back to my aunt’s. This time, we lived in the back house, which the last time was occupied. We lived there for like two years. In [year], my mom wanted to move again, so we did. We had to move schools again and make new friends. Well, I liked it because it wasn’t that hard. . . .

6. I don’t really remember when I was born, so I’ll skip to when I was five. When I was five, my mom, my mom’s ex, and I used to live in [location.] My dad would always think my mom would cheat on him. He was a truck driver, coming home only some weekends, so he did not know. I know my mom didn’t cheat on him because I’m here from like __to two o’clock. So then my mom and dad divorced. We got kicked out of our house and forced to move here. We lived with our uncle until his wife didn’t want us to live at their house. So we moved into my grandfather’s house. I loved it there because he didn’t care what we did at all. My life has been very well after all of this. My mom has a very good job and she is very well. . . .

7. [Date] is one day I will never forget. One interesting day, I should say. That day I won’t forget because I lost my dad that day. I was at my friend [name]’s house, and early in the morning, my dad got up and decided that he didn’t want to be around anymore. He got up, and he got dressed. He and my mom got into a huge fight. They wouldn’t stop. They argued about everything, until my dad got so far, he grabbed a knife and started going towards my older brother’s room, and my mom had to call the cops. The cops heard the whole thing over the phone and were sent to our house right away. My dad was escorted out and told it would be best if he were to stay gone for a few days. It ended up being more than a few days. When I came home, he was gone. I saw my dad again that July when there was a medical emergency including me where I had to go to the hospital because my little brother shattered a glass window in my face at about three inches away from my face. I was put into the emergency room for eight hours. They took X-rays of my face and hands and then sent me home.
The problems just spiraled out of control from there. My brother was sent to a mental institution, shortly after the incident with my face, and we went in for family counseling. One year later, my little brother was released and sent back home. Before he was released in [time], I had stopped seeing my dad in [time]. I haven’t seen him in a year, nor has he tried to contact me in over a year. I really don’t understand why it seems like my dad didn’t care, and if he did, he had an odd way of showing it. I kind of miss my dad, but I don’t really miss the things he said and he did. On [date], my parents will be getting a divorce, and then me and my two siblings will be put in a custody battle. This will probably be a long, hard process, but it will have to be done. I hope to have all the fighting over with soon, but with all this, something good is sure to come.

8. A few months after living a life of abuse and lies, I broke. I couldn’t handle the stress, and I couldn’t bear living with my mistakes. I found a bottle of pills and took nearly twenty. I was numb. I stumbled into my room. Becoming more and more dizzy, I began to pass out. My sister walked into the room, picked up the pill bottle, and screamed. She quickly told my mom what had happened. She was screaming, crying, and starting the car. I was rushed to the hospital. My family was shocked. I was forced to stay awake until a room had opened. I could hear my mom filling in the rest of the family. I could only make out a few words… “She found Grandma’s pills…she was raped.” I closed my eyes as I was put on a stretcher. My inner thoughts were screaming, “Take me, take me, take me already.” The nurse interrupted them as she impatiently shoved a large white bottle in my right hand and a straw in my left. “Drink quickly, sweetheart.” I took a sip. Charcoal. I should have known. I drank hastily, growing more and more terrified. I heard my step sister inform my mother what had to come next. 72 hours in a padded room. I trembled. “Why hadn’t I just used a quicker method?” My inner voice boomed in my head. By now it was 11:00 pm. I had arrived at around 3:00 pm. I was exhausted. Hauled onto a stretcher, the paramedic socialized and tried to give me advice. I fell asleep, and awoke in a new hospital. A mental hospital. I stayed there for almost a week. I will never forget this experience. And I hope nobody will make the mistakes I have.

These are just a sampling, but I think they paint a clear picture. May we love well and never be fooled by the calm exterior. Additionally, may we realize that not everyone’s dealt the same hand in life, but as so many of my students did, understand that regardless of the hardships, there is still hope.

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This past week, I had two days of consecutive conversations with teenagers who were trying to navigate the baggage they had inherited from getting involved sexually at too young an age. It is one of my biggest frustrations that no one (or maybe not enough people) seems to be talking to these kids honestly about the choices they’re making, so that by the time they get to me, it is often too late.

The first instance was a young lady who came in to see me because she has sought my advice before. Just that Friday, she had come by at the football game and discussed a relationship with a guy. Knowing the guy she was “talking to,” I had warned her as explicitly as I could without telling his business. She assured me that they weren’t dating, but were “friends with benefits.” I explained to her that was worse. “Why?” she asked me, “What’s wrong with that?” I explained to her that being “friends with benefits” meant that she was willing to give herself away without any type of commitment on his part. She was completely devaluing herself. She agreed I was right, and shortly after, went away…

Tuesday, she came in to tell me “things had happened,” and now everyone knew about it and was calling her names, and she might have a disease–an incurable one. “I should have listened to you.” she said, “But, he promised me he was a virgin…” Of course he did. The whole school had heard rumors of everyone this guy’s been with. But, she believed him. And it may have affected the rest of her life.

We discussed how she couldn’t change the past, but she could learn from this. I explained that the most valuable lesson she could learn is to value herself–that her value doesn’t come from a beauty pageant or from an older guy paying attention to her–it is simply because of who she is. I gave her a hug, and she left.

The next day, the second girl came in. She came to talk to me because I had seen the scars on her arm from cutting. She explained that she was doing it because it made her ex-boyfriend pay attention to her. I asked her if she really wanted a relationship with someone who was only in it because he felt sorry for her. She said, “I don’t care why he’s with me, just so long as he is…” The back story on this girl is that she had given this guy her virginity because he kept bugging her. She finally said, “If I let you, will you shut up?” My heart broke when she’d told me that. I explained to her that the reason she felt so attached to this guy is that she had given him her virginity–that that act creates a powerful bond between people, and that’s why it is not to be given thoughtlessly. I explained to her that she needed her heart to be healed and that bond broken.

Two lives devastated by choices. I realize talking about sex is an awkward conversation to have. I also realize that everyone has to make the decision of when and if they are going to have sex, and that THEY have to make that decision. My challenge though–to parents, to teachers, and to adults who have conversations with young people is this: No one says, “I wish I’d been a bigger slut in high school.” But plenty of people say, “I wish I’d waited longer.” Please be honest with kids. Counsel them on the consequences of the choices they make. When appropriate, share your own experiences–even if they include regrets. It’s far easier to be awkward for a little bit than to pick up the pieces after the fact.

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Today was one of those days I live for as a teacher: the kind of day when the lesson plan gets thrown out the window (modified) and you just deal with life lessons.

We have been doing speeches recently. Public Speaking is an eighth grade state standard, and I had given my students the encouragement to pick a topic they were passionate about–either positively or negatively, explaining that if you loved something or it made you angry, you were more able to speak for three minutes, hold the audience’s attention, and otherwise make it easy on yourself. I knew I had a winner when one of my Honors students picked the topic of depression.

By way of background knowledge, this is a beautiful, popular young woman. What a number of her classmates didn’t know (which I knew through a variety of journals and her personal narrative paper), was that this girl had struggled with severe depression–to the point of having to be in an institution this year. When she asked if she should do the topic, I told her I thought it was an incredible opportunity to give meaning to her pain–to allow her experience to impact others lives. She asked if I wanted her to share her story. I responded that if she was willing, I felt it would help many students in her class that see her as this picture perfect image. Thankfully, she was willing.

Yesterday, a number of her classmates were out, so, while I could have had her give her speech then, I (with the remaining class members’ votes) decided to have her wait until today so everyone could hear.

Her 3-5 minute speech initially took about 7 minutes, with her stumbling around the symptoms and causes of depression. Finally, she got to her story. When she switched into that mode, she gained confidence and was extremely transparent about the reasons she had struggled with depression and her experience in the facility. Her classmates hung on her words. She shared the struggles she had undergone resulting in an attempt to take her own life. She praised her classmates who had been there for her to encourage her. She explained how she had learned to share her feelings with others and allow them to help her through her situation. It was a truly unforgettable experience.

I am thankful today was a catch-up day, because we only ended up having about 15 minutes for Shakespeare, Vocabulary, and continued work on research papers. But, as one student shared with her, “I feel like I used to know who you were–we had a few conversations, but didn’t really talk much. But, now, I think I have a lot more respect for you. I’ve seen what you’ve gone through, and what you’ve overcome. Thanks for sharing with us.” Those moments–the times when human beings truly are genuine with each other–are precious indeed. And in the midst of that, we were able to open up a taboo subject and show students that everyone has struggles, and we can overcome them, if we will stick together and encourage one another.

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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 received the following four journals this past week. I thought they might reveal a little bit about the state of Education. The only thing I have changed is spelling and names. The rest is exactly the words used. The first letter was a free write (Write whatever you want); the others are a response to the topic write a letter to someone who has impacted your life. Here’s a sampling of what I received. Keep in mind, I teach 8th Grade:

1. “(My girlfriend) might be pregnant. I don’t think it’s so bad. I’m happy about it. I don’t see what’s so bad. Her mom wants her to get an abortion, but I won’t let her. If she succeeds, I will call her a baby killer.”

2. “Dear Mom and Dad,
When you guys left me I didn’t know what to do. I was lost. You guys made me go through hell. I didn’t have you in my arms. I never had a hug or kiss. It’s hard for me to see kids with their parents. I cry inside when people say, ‘Hey, tell your mom or dad…’ Every time I hear Mom and Dad, I feel so depressed, and at some point I feel like ending the pain, and I want to end my life so I don’t want to live with the pain. I never knew you guys at all. I wish I did.”

(I asked him what had happened–wrote the question actually, since he said I could read his letter. Here’s what he wrote back:)

“Well, when I was a baby, my mom gave me to my grandma and she left, and my dad split too. So I grew up without parents. So, I don’t know how it feels to love.”

3. “Dear Dad:
I haven’t seen you in years. This ‘in and out of prison’ crap is killing me inside. I need you, and all I can do is talk to you on the phone and Facebook–which I don’t know how you have a Facebook in prison. Even though, if you add it up, you were in prison for 12 years of my life, I’m 14 now. I love you and need a dad. Our memories are dear and close to me. I’m in this classroom writing it as an assignment, but I actually mean this to you, Dad. Our memories make me smile. For now, I’ll have to stop writing. I’ll see you when I’m 22. Love, your son…”

4. “(Name) was my mom’s husband who tore my family apart. He came into my life when I was 18 months. My brother was about 4 years old. He threw bricks at my brother when my brother would pee in his pants. When I was 3, he took me to the room and took my clothes off and raped me. I didn’t know what was going on until I was 7 years old, and I asked to live with my dad because I was scared. When my step mom started noticing scars and noticed I was acting different, she pulled me into the room and asked me if something was going on. So I told her how he was abusing me and punching me in the face and raping me. She got scared and nervous, so she called my dad at work and told him he needed to come home. When he came home, my step mom talked to him, and he came out of the room crying and made a phone call. Even though I lived with my dad in (town), I still went to (a school name). After school, I walked to the office because my name was called over the intercom. There was a guy with a notebook and pencil. My sister and brother were in the office talking to him, and it seemed as if he was taking notes. He asked me questions about when I was raped. I remembered everything that happened like it was yesterday. My mom didn’t know this guy was here. I was trying to figure out who he was, and when I looked at his shirt, there were 3 letters “CPS” I didn’t know what that meant. She had told me it meant Child Protective Service. I thought I was going to get taken away. My mom walked into the school and realized what was going on. After she and the CPS guy talked, she took us to my aunt’s house and we tried hiding from him (step-dad). When he found my mom, he started shaking her and tried killing her. As I started crying, he came and punched me. My mom pressed charges, and now he has to be 100 feet away from us and he is not allowed in (town). After everything, my mom took me to the hospital and they got me checked out, so after that I was sent to the emergency room, and I was dehydrated. They didn’t think I would make it through the night, but I did. And now, I’m living today for tomorrow.”

One week of letters. So the reader knows, I have submitted each of these letters to the counsellors. As to the validity of these letters, I have heard the general details of each letter confirmed by siblings or others in the community. The specifics are the account given me in the child’s own words. Yes, there are details which make me question their truth (i.e., do CPS workers wear shirts advertising their logo? I don’t thinks so…But, I had heard from the other siblings similar accounts of this step-dad’s treatment of the kids, so the details in it are at least mostly accurate.) For me, it was just another reminder to not write these kids off as “Failing students” as the state would label each of them but the author of the third letter, who is in my Honors class–the rest currently hold F’s in my class. It’s a matter of looking at a student who has already “Left the Child Behind” and trying to pick up the pieces in the aftermath.

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Yesterday was a long day. I was supposed to go directly to help with Musical Theatre auditions, but ended up counselling 4 kids along the way.

It all started 8th hour when I had to break up a fight in the hallway. I finally got eye contact with the student I had grabbed (other students had helped with the other boy), and got him calmed down. I took him down to the office (frustrated because 8th hour is my most out of control, and I couldn’t imagine what they’d do without me in there…) On the way, he decided to punch the wall, splitting two knuckles and dripping blood down the wall. He was so mad, he cried in the office. The other kid had called a girl a “B” and when this kid had confronted him about it, he said, “B means girl.” So, the kid wanted to hit him. I explained that the instinct to protect a woman was noble, and I was proud of him, but fighting wasn’t the way to handle it.

When I returned to class (having wiped off his knuckles and the wall), they were all sitting in their seats (mostly quiet…) Miracles DO happen. I made it through the period, went to check on my kid in the office, and returned to class to get ready for auditions. Someone else was already there.

I’d forgotten I’d told a student he could talk to me after school. Sigh…He explained that he had feelings for a friend’s girlfriend (and she for him). He didn’t want to play his friend but really liked this girl. I explained to him how valuable he was and that he didn’t deserve to be anybody’s “What if something else’s better…” person. We discussed his future, and he gave me a hug, and said, “I love you. You totally made me feel better.” Now on to auditions…

Except there were two students in the hall. One just needed a notebook, but the other was dealing with trying to restore a relationship with his best friend who he’d ignored for weeks because of his girlfriend. His girlfriend had said they should stay friends, but now was mad that he was trying to restore the friendship. We talked for a bit, and he walked me down to auditions (for which I was now about 15 minutes late.) While I was telling him goodbye, another student walked up.

“Miss Brailey, can I talk to you?”

“Sure, what’s up?” (I’m expecting him to ask for help with English, since I’d told him I would help him on his work…)

“I need to figure out how to deal with my anger issues, so I don’t end up like my dad.”

Sigh–his dad’s in jail.

“Okay, come on in here.” I took him into the choir room (Which attaches to the stage where I could hear the auditions I was supposed to be helping judge faintly in the background…)

We sat down, and I explained to him that he has a choice. Patterns of behavior are repeated from parent to child unless someone deals with them. If he doesn’t deal with this, it will not only affect him, but his kids as well. He needs to say, “This stops now, and this pattern won’t be repeated in my family.”

Then, I explain that we become like what we focus on. I explain that always dwelling on what his dad has done makes him like that (angry.) I shared with him that he needed to forgive his dad–not that what his dad did was right–but acknowledge the wrong of it, and forgive him for it. I shared the example of Corrie Ten Boom and having to forgive the guard who killed her sister. Forgiveness releases us to not be held captive by another person. I gave him examples of how to forgive his dad. He said, “Wow, how can you know so much about me when I haven’t talked to you about this?”

I had the opportunity to pray with him, and he said, “Man, I feel so much better already. But, now what? What’s the next step?” I reminded him how to forgive and encouraged him to find men in his life who would pour into him, since manhood is bestowed by other men. He asked, “How will I know who’s the right kind of man?” I explained that he should look at the man’s wife and kids. How they respond to him is a good indicator of what kind of man he is. I also explained that he should pick a man he wants to be like and ask that man to spend time with him doing guy things. He had a coach in mind to talk to.

He said, “Man, you should be a therapist.”

“I am,” I replied. “I just don’t get paid the big bucks for it.”

He laughed and gave me a hug. I held his shoulders and looked him in the eye. “You are not your dad. You are not your brother. You are you. And that is enough.”

He thanked me and left. And I finally made it to auditions…45 minutes late, but with changed lives in the meantime.

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I asked a journal question this week which ended up being extremely eye-opening to me. The question was “If you could have one of your parents be someone from any time in history, who would you want as a parent and explain why.” The response of one student blew me away. Here’s what she said:

“I would want my mother to be is you, Miss Brailey. You push people to get good grades. Also a kind heart on how people feel. You care about how us students are doing.”

I know this girl’s history. (She’s the sister of the student I mentioned in “When did my life become Jerry Springer?”) Her mom’s in a gang and treats her horribly. Another teacher had mentioned an incident to me where her mom had come to get her from a practice that ran late and cussed her out in front of her coach and entire team. I can’t imagine this girl’s home life, and, though her sister (whom I never had in class) got pregnant at 16, both she and her brother are amazing kids.

I think of the things she wanted from a parent: Someone to push me, someone to be kind and care, and someone to make sure I’m doing okay. Not too difficult of standards to meet, but it’s amazing how few of our kids have that. Thankfully, for the many that don’t there is often a teacher there–in loco parentus–to care about them and push them to succeed.

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