As a child of the 80’s and 90’s, I grew up in a family that prospered financially. By prospered I mean that they kept their jobs, and maintained stable and successful careers. They both had college degrees, with my mother also obtaining a master’s degree. They lived during a time when a degree meant a job. Sadly, that time no longer exists in America.
The older Americans who didn’t save for retirement are now faced with working several part-time low wage jobs, which pushes the teenage population out. Personally, I’ve been working in some capacity since I was 16 years old. If I were a teen now, that would be almost impossible. Many mid-30’s to mid-40’s bracket professionals, who suddenly find themselves out of work due to “down-sizing” or “restructuring” find it nearly, if not impossible, to find equal opportunity positions that they worked so hard to obtain over the course of twenty years. Young professionals right out of college, disappointed from not finding work, must move in with mom and dad for months or years at a time. This is America today.
It is heartbreaking for anyone to deal with the struggles of unemployment or underemployment, but the children affected by unemployment is what motivates me the most as a teacher. The heavy weight and responsibility these children feel is immense. Many parents try to protect their children from the effects of unemployment and poverty, but the stress is so vast and deep that it is almost impossible. As a result, these children walk around with the weight of the world on their shoulders. This weight keeps them from doing their best in school. How can a child concentrate on a math problem or a grammar lesson when they don’t know where they will be living next or if a parent will be home after school to greet them?
The absolute last thing these kids need is a teacher who doesn’t believe in them or embarrasses them in front of their peers. They need teachers who are willing to listen to them, and provide an environment of safety and comfort. This doesn’t mean we, as teachers seeking excellence, have to be easy on them academically. In fact, I believe children in struggling situations need to be pushed, and believe in something great. They need to know that it is ok to dream, and dream big.
Because, who are we to say that those dreams can’t be achieved?
I am heartbroken that I live during a time, when children have lost hope in a dream, because of the hurt of their own parents’ experiences. It is understandable. But, we must never give up as parents. as teachers, as a nation. We must believe in a brighter tomorrow, and teach our kids to dream big!