Friday, December 21, 2007

Don't Want to Go Home for the Holidays

The last few days before winter break are my most favorite days of the school year, and this year was no exception. Many of my students were finished with their unit projects, and the rest had just a little more work to do before they turned their pieces in to be graded.

Because we are a public school, I never have a Christmas project. Instead, just before the holidays, I pull the card stock, ribbon, jingle bells, paint, and lots of glitter, glue, and scissors out of the store room, and I let kids, who are finished with the last unit, create as many festive baubles, paper snowflakes, ornaments, and greeting cards as they wish ...or not.

It's a sparkly free for all. I also bring out my palette of face paint and decorate the cheeks and noses of the kids who flock to my classroom, that has somehow transformed itself into Santa's workshop. It's funny how many of these high schoolers who spend most their public lives trying to act tough, and wanting to be treated like adults, become like children again at Christmas time.

Of course the conversations always turn to Christmas plans.

"What are you doing for Christmas Ms. Matt? Are you going any place?"

"No. But my kids will all be home on Christmas day, and the rest of my family will get together and celebrate later in the week. I've been invite to a lot of parties this year too, so I'm really looking forward to the next couple of weeks. How about you guys? How will you be spending your holidays?"

A few kids chatter happily about Christmas dinners, some talk about church services, and about traveling to visit relatives. Then there are the kids who candidly share stories of family festivities that resemble a gathering of Jerry Springer's' most obnoxious guests. The class is regaled with tales of inebriated family feuds, trees catching fire from tossed cigarettes, shoplifted Christmas gifts, requisite celebratory gunfire, and the annual trips to the police station to pick up drunk and disorderly family members. The room rocks with laughter, and a few kids remark how relieved they feel to hear that other people have crazy families too.

Finally, there are always the few students who fall silent. One-on-one conversations with some of the kids reveal sad, lonely holidays. No tree, no gift, no party. Parents or close family members who are ill, addicted, imprisoned, absent, or have recently died. There is very little joy in the holiday season for these kids.

The last day of school before the two week vacation always ends with a fire bell. No activities or detentions are scheduled that day, and we have what is called a "fire drill dismissal". Before the last class period, the principals' voice comes over the loud speaker telling students to gather their coats and belongings, as they will not be admitted back into the school after the fire drill. You see, it's hard to get some of these kids out of the building on the last day of school.

It is so very, very, sad to discover the number of kids who don't want to go home for the holidays. It reminds me not only how fortunate I am, but also how important we are as teachers in the lives of these young people. For some of these kids we are the only ones in their lives who care.

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