Core scripture: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2)
Message: When I saw it on my bookshelf, I snatched it. I had forgotten I had a copy of it, but I needed an interesting, page-turner of a book to read, and I had found it: A Child Called “It.” It was finished a week later. Quite an accomplishment for a slow reader like myself.
The book tells the story of author David Pelzer’s life. Pelzer chronicles one of the worst child abuse cases in the history of California in his autobiography. For no apparent reason, his mother, a raving alcoholic, made his life a living hell. She starved him, giving him only scraps of leftovers for food. She beat him. She made him drink bleach, sleep on a cot in the garage, and once even scorched his skin on the stove, melting his skin down to the bone.
School was Pelzer’s safe haven. When his teachers asked about his bruises and scars, he dismissed them quickly. His mother had said she would kill him if he told anyone about the torturous games she played on him. Pelzer spent his time at school stealing lunches from his classmates to stay alive and take a deep breath before his long walk home to face his psychotic mother. (Spoiler alert: she gets caught at the end and Pelzer gets rescued.)
This story got me thinking … How many of our students endure difficult home lives? Which of my students are seeing my classroom as a safe haven away from home? Which kiddoes are enduring two and a half weeks of dysfunction in their homes over Christmas Break? Though we may not have any David Pelzers in our classes, we certainly have students who will need to be reprogrammed come January.
So, what do we do? How can we make this transition that much smoother so it does not provide as many hiccups? Here are some ideas. You might even like the alliteration I used with the letter “F” to make these ideas stick.
- Pray fervently. These kids desperately need prayer. Pray for their safety and protection. Pray that they can take refuge in friends and family that will give them the love they need. In Mark 11:24 Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Pray boldly that these sweet children will return to school ready to learn.
- Remind firmly. Every teacher has rules. Guess what? The rules of your classroom are probably not the same as the rules students follow at home. Two and a half weeks of following their own rules means they will need reminders of how your class works. Be leery. Students will test you here. If you do not establish the expectations on that first week back, you are in for a long semester. Be firm, and do not be afraid to make an example of even the best students. That will set the precedent for later.
- Give grace freely. Especially to the kids who you know have bad home lives. How do you know who these kids are? They are the ones who might be wearing the same smelly sweatshirt to school every day. They might have six siblings living in a two-bedroom apartment. They might be a little sleepy-eyed from being woken up three times a night. It will take some time for these kids to adjust. Be firm in expectation, but be understanding.
I am picturing one of my students right now. The kid is not even 14-years-old, yet he has been through 14 foster homes. He hopes his new foster mom will become his adopted mom. His hair is rarely combed, and he has to leave class five minutes early to decompress and prepare to focus his disoriented mind for another 50 minutes. When he sees me, he wraps his arms around me freely, giving me his daily hug. I wrap him in our traditional side hug every day. He needs that hug.
Although I know this young man is safe in my room, I have little knowledge of what he has been through. Through gentle mentoring conversations we have had through the first part of the year, he has expressed how some of his foster homes were hideous environments. They may have scarred him; however, I refuse to believe I cannot make a difference with this kid. I pray for him, I hold him to the same expectations as others, and I give him grace when he needs it.
Challenge: Begin praying now for students who have troubled home lives. As you begin planning activities for that first week back from Christmas Break, be sure to include time to reevaluate your classroom rules.
Song application: “I refuse” by Josh Wilson
Sometimes I, I just want to close my eyes
And act like everyone’s alright, when I know they’re not
This world needs God, but it’s easier to stand and watch
I could say a prayer and just move on, like nothing’s wrong
But I refuse
‘Cause I don’t want to live like I don’t care
I don’t want to say another empty prayer
Oh, I refuse to
Sit around and wait for someone else
To do what God has called me to do myself
Oh, I could choose not to move
But I refuse
I can hear the least of these, crying out so desperately
And I know we are the hands and feet, of You, oh God
So if You say move, it’s time for me to follow through
And do what I was made to do, and show them who You are
Just for fun: It is never too late for a visit from the Christmas Linebacker! If you do not laugh at the following video, you are not human. Enjoy!
Prayer: Father, I pray for those troubled students with difficult home lives. Guard them and protect them. May their transition back to school in January be smooth. Amen.