Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

unpacking lessons October 20, 2010

Filed under: Commentary — Shawn L. Bird @ 6:52 pm
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A while ago I got a note about a student.  I was told by a relative, “You should know that he’s a bad kid.” 

Wow.  Labels already.  Does the kid self-identify as a ‘bad kid’ and if so, how hard does he have to work to ensure his label is properly affixed?  (Not hard, actually, most people seem willing to accept it).

I wrote her back and said,“There are no such thing as ‘bad kids’ there are just ‘baggaged kids’ and it’s our job as teachers to help them to unpack.”

I thought it was a profound sentiment, and I realise that it’s not an easy chore.  Some kids come from homes where instability is the order of the day.  They have addicted parents and often have intimate experience with physical, emotional and sexual abuse.  They see  violence as the routine way to interact in their community.  Their behavior only manifests their reality.  

In Restitution workshops a few years ago, I learned one key concept that has been guiding my teaching practice since: 

All behavior is purposeful.

The behavior is meeting a need, or the person would not be doing it.  Whether they’re having a tantrum, doing drugs, or staring at a wall, they’re doing it for a reason.  The skill comes from teaching the individual how to meet his or her needs in a way that is socially appropriate.  We have to meet the need and coach growth and confidence.

Have you ever unpacked after a kid’s trip to camp?  The dirt ridden, crumpled articles that come out of the bag look nothing like the pristinely clean and neatly folded articles that went in.  Socks stand by themselves.  Underwear may be slightly green.  Knees are missing from pants.  Things are a mess.  There may be unfamiliar creatures along for the ride.  It’s unpleasant pulling the stinky, disgusting mess out of the bag.  Unpacking is a challenging thing.   No one wants to do that work.

We need to haul it all to the laundry to scrub things back into a semblance of their former state.  We need to stitch up the holes.  Sometimes the articles are so thoroughly destroyed that we need to replace them with new ones that can do the job better.  We need to get the kids squeaky clean and polished like they are heading off on the first day of school: full of promise and confident that they have the skills to face any challenge, secure in the knowledge that when there are things that they can’t cope with, that adults will be there to help them through it.

Every kid deserves a fresh bag of clothes.



PS.  Sadly, I know that there are some situations that go beyond these skills. Sociopathy and psychopathy are going to require far more than metaphorical laundry soap, but society requires we endeavor to do our best.


2 Responses to “unpacking lessons”

  1. wow…. very good one, Shawn. I wish these thoughts could resound through our schools and greater community.

    Your blog makes me think of a chance encounter I had yesterday. I ran into a young man at his place of employment — he was that “bad boy” that the parents whispered about in the hockey stands and the school courtyard. He was that boy that all the principals and teachers were warned about… he was a wounded soul and eventually chose to salve his wounds with street drugs and sadly, he fell away from “our world”. Yesterday, he recognized me and smiled into my eyes from eyes that twinkled with clarity and wisdom beyond his years. He’s said “things are so much better now” and I know someone, somewhere along the way helped him (re)pack a fresh bag of clothes.

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