Here I am about to check-out at Trader Joe’s when I look at the lines and all of them have at least 3 costumers except for one. I check the line out and made the connection to why. The cashier was a middle aged man, very unpolished, long oily hair, and had an impressively work appropriate sailors mouth.
I decided to join the other 27 people and wait in a longer line rather than go through his check-out. When pushing my cart to a line a couple cashiers away, I realized what I was doing. I was generalizing another human I know nothing about, simply because he does not dress and act the way I expected a cashier at Trader Joe’s to act. My action of walking to another line doesn’t match my beliefs. In fact, if I saw one of my students avoid a lunch line at school because of the way one of the lunch workers looked or acted, I would make them volunteer with the person to get to know them. I would give them an annoyingly long lesson about virtues and the type of tiny people they want to be. Ashley the big hypocrite.
Feeling slightly disappointed in myself and slightly uncomfortable, I went through his check-out line.
He asked me if I was ready for Christmas and I said, “Work has been so hectic, I haven’t even had time to think about it.” Which then turned into the I’m a special education teacher, no I don’t work with kids that have down syndrome, emotional-behavioral disorders, like kids with trauma, anxiety, and different behavior disorders.” He asked me a couple more questions and then said, “I was a bad kid like the ones you teach. I was kicked out of 3 different elementary schools, a couple middle, and then went to an all boys high school because they were the only ones that would take me.” I told him I was sorry to hear that and said he must have had a lot going on when he was a child.
His body language shifted and he said something along the lines of, “You are the first person that didn’t respond to that saying I wasn’t a little sh*t or ask what I did.” He went on to explain that growing up was really hard and he hated school. I carried the groceries to my car, shoved them in that back, and started thinking what the difference someone could have made in his life if they had cement shoes. Then I made the connection to I was judging an older version of my students. The way people at school look at them, I looked at the cashier like that. Thankfully my cement shoes grounded me.
Cement shoes is a metaphor the author of Fostering Resilient Learners uses to describes staying true to who we are as educators and using that lens to ground us in our interactions with students. Your cement shoes is your belief and mission statement about why you show up to work each day. The author asks the reader to reflect on if their actions match their beliefs and intentions with students. He continues with explaining if we are aware of our mission and our emotions, we develop cement shoes that will ground us when there are behavioral storms or uncomfortable situations. In doing so, we are modeling appropriate emotional responses for all students and creating a safe environment for our students who have experienced trauma.
“Challenging” students live in a storm and bring that storm into our classrooms ever day. We can either make the storm bigger, by continuing to be reactive, or stand strong in our cement shoes while the storm passes.
Everyone should read this book. It talks about the need for consistency, high-expectations, and consequences, all through the trauma-informed practice lens. It provides real life examples that teachers can relate to and strategies for teacher self-care and building relationships with challenging students.
I’m probably not doing a great job at selling this book, but if I would not have decided to spend $24 dollars on a “textbook” to read for fun, I would have been the fourth person in another cashiers line.
Instead of avoiding the discomfort, I embraced it to model acceptance, because that is what I believe. Everyone deserves to belong and feel accepted.
So, why should you read this book? Because it shows you what’s inside of the “challenging” student, in your class and in your school, that no one seems to be able to reach. Then it teaches you how to reach them.
As a teacher, if you wish you could reach all students, this book is for you.
While we are having our students set goals for the New Year, this is the perfect read to help you reach your goal as a teacher. It’s worth it.