Dear Student From Hell:
I see you. I see your struggles every day. When other people call you “the student from hell” what they mean is that you create hell for them in their classroom. I know that you are, actually, living in hellish circumstances. I see that your mother works three jobs and that you are responsible for your younger brothers and sisters even though you are only nine. I see that you work at your family’s business for longer hours than are legally allowed and don’t have time to finish your homework.
I see that, yesterday, you didn’t eat dinner, but you did watch your dad drink so much he passed out, but not until after he roughed up you and your mother. I see that your clothes are dirty, and I smell your house. I know that you don’t have a washer and dryer and no car and the Laundromat is three miles away and your water gets shut off every few weeks, intermingling its arrival and departure with electricity.
I see your grandma struggle with her arthritis, and peer out the curtains at the pitfalls and stray dogs, and tell you ‘no, you can’t go outside, it’s too dangerous out there,’ so you squirm in your seat all day trying to physically escape the prison of your desk.
I see you over react to even small slights, determined to create and defend a sense of your own honor. I see teachers and neighbors watch with baited breath for you to make a wrong move, and reinforce for themselves that you are what they thought.
I see that this constant stress and anxiety has literally altered the structure of your brain. That learning is harder; that self-control takes more effort; that memory is fleeting, and trust is foreign.
But now hear this: I also see promise. Even if in just small victories. Your voice many not carry, you might not know yet how to use it. For every demand in test scores, I will demand compassion. For every cry of failure, I will push. A school isn’t a failure because there are many of you in attendance. A failing school is a failing community. I will, to the best of my ability, push people to confront their notions that you are the problem. I will, to the best of my ability, let you know that I see you; that I see your hell, that I see you shine in spite of it, maybe even, sometimes, because of it. I see your hell, and raise you hope.
Originally published on InnovatorsinEducation.org