In my Intro to Sociology classes right now I’m lecturing on Domestic Violence. It’s covered in the course text, but I add more to the info since it’s such a huge societal issue…epidemic proportions actually.
Here’s the thing: after my lectures in both of my classes, I had more than 5 students in each one talk to me about their own experiences with DV. Some of them were teenagers when they experienced it in their relationships, and others were older students who had had domestically violent marriages. One student shared that her boyfriend attempted to strangle her to death, while another student was not only verbally and physically abused, but was raped as well.
As my students told their stories to me, I couldn’t help but think how all of my students have a history. It’s easy to see a classroom ‘full of students’ and to group them as such. Seeing them as individuals with experiences I can’t even imagine, and will most often will never know, is a bit harder. My job is to teach a certain curriculum, and with over a hundred students, it’s difficult to get to know each one so personally. And because of that, it’s tough to know what subjects ‘hit home’ and how my students have been affected by the issues.
Not long ago in one of my classes, I showed a film depicting a woman living in a trailer with her 2 sons. She was very poor and the film was talking about the various social classes in America. After the film, many of my students expressed scorn for this woman…saying how she should get a better job and how her poverty was her own fault. (By the way, she worked full-time in a fast food restaurant and walked miles to and from work everyday). Later, one of the young men told me he was actually envious of this woman because she had a home. See, he was staying at our local homeless shelter during the day where he caught the bus to school, and then sleeping at the men’s shelter at night. He had, basically, the clothes on his back and was working hard to get an education while trying to find a job. If the other students have known this, would they have had more sympathetic reactions? I hope so.
Another time before a class started, I overheard a couple of my students discussing their dinner plans. One was going to a nice restaurant and the other was going to try a new place out of town. They asked another student what she was going to do, and the student said: “I’m going to have a bowl of cereal. That’s all we have to eat right now.” The students were stunned. It never occurred to them that poverty can hit so close to home. (And yes, I got a referral to a food bank for my student).
I’ve always ‘been there’ for my students…at least I try to the best I can. But I’m going to try even harder. Watch reactions better while discussing sensitive topics…ask students how they are doing…try to let them know I’m a ‘safe’ person they can talk too.
My students are more than just students. They are individuals that might be going through unimaginable things. And I’m going to work hard to maybe ease some of their burdens.