I experienced my first every 6th grade Camp this week. It is a 5 day outdoor school that supplements the science curriculum for 6th graders. In addition to education, it is a week full of social and personal education for our students. But the purpose of this post is not to talk about the value of our young generations learning first hand the beauty and complexity of nature, it is about what I learned on night three.
Walking through the camp office around 7pm, getting ready to head out on the night hike, I found myself in a role that I never really considered was part of the job description. Two female students had been in a physical altercation. Both students were visibly upset, both students set to go home that night, both students in need of love and support. My “work wife”, I’ll call her,”T”, gave me a look that said, “I need your help”, so into the room I went. She was sitting with a student who I recognized but who was not directly one of my own 25o 6th graders. This poor girl was crying hysterically, to the point that she was struggling to breathe and her hands were so stiff they were seemed frozen. Before I became a PE teacher, I was a professional massage therapist and a Reiki healer, so my inner healer stepped up to the plate. T and I sat with the student, I’ll call her, “D”, and did everything we could to help her get her breathing under control.
T talked to D and reminded her that she know what a strong, good young lady she is and that this behavior was uncharacteristic. Although she did point out that her behavior in class lately had been increasingly aggressive. While T talked, I healed, sending love and strength to D, trying to calm her breathing and relax her tense hands. After some time, D finally broke down and we both realized that our students are going though way more than we can even imagine. D started confiding in us that her parents had recently began thinking about separating and that D had heard and seen them fighting on more than one occasion. D had been bottling up emotions of fear and blame for months while feeling like she could not tell anyone. Her grades have been suffering and her relationships with friends began to suffer but she felt like it was not her place to share her worries and anxiety with anyone. This poor 11 year old felt like it was her duty to keep her parents and her family together, and that this fight at camp will further put a strain on her parents’ relationship. She felt like there was no one at school or at home to talk to. T and I insisted that she can confide in us any time and that the school counselor is there to help her as well. We couldn’t fathom the pain she must be feeling by not realizing the resources she has available to her.
We kept reminding D that the fact that her parents were open and honest with the current state of their family, meant that they deeply love her and are working towards keeping the family together and working through their differences. D was worried that her parents would be upset with her for ruining camp and to be honest, we were too. We had no idea what her parents’ reaction would be when they came to pick her up later. We feared the worst but hoped for the best, knowing that her parents were in the car almost immediately after receiving the principle’s phone call.
As we waited with D for her parents to arrive, she continued to cry and we continued to console. When her parents walked in through the door, D immediately ran to her dad, who embraced her lovingly and kissed her head. T and I both lost it and started crying. We had hoped that her parents would be loving and compassionate but it was more than we imagined. They were incredibly sweet, they let her know that there would be consequences for her actions but that they love her deeply.
Her father stepped with us outside to talk about the incident and he also revealed to us that perhaps D’s recent behavior was a reaction to her parents’ fighting and her sensing instability. We agreed and encouraged him to seek help for her and the family. I also suggested to allow D to participate in the after-school wrestling program so she can learn a productive outlet for her aggression, to which her father agreed was a great idea. Her mom hugged us and her dad graciously embraced our hands, both of them thanking us for taking care of D and for believing in her. When they drove away, T and I felt the weight of D on our shoulders and quickly realized how important the role of a teacher can be.
There are 2 sides to this story, there was another student involved in the fight. She is one of my students, some one who is known around campus as a bully and is always involved in the “girl drama” at school. I’ll refer to her as, “A”. While talking with D, T and I realized that A was all alone and probably feeling awful having to hear us consoling D. I went to try to talk to her, when I turned to face her, her face was stone cold and there was extreme anger in her eyes, unlike anything I had ever seen. She wasn’t crying. I tried to talk to her so she could explain what she was feeling, but she yelled at me and told me she did not want to talk to anyone. I let her know that I care about her and that it was okay if she did not feel like talking, but it broke my heart that a 6th grader could have such anger and not be willing to accept help. Also, we found out that her mom seemed to be in no hurry to come pick her up and console her. My heart broke for A, realizing that her home life must be very different than D’s.
For T and I both, we were so grateful we were able to be at camp and be there to help D. As PE teachers, we see every single female student that walks in the locker room. Even if they are not on our rosters, we feel a responsibility to take care of them and be a support. For me, I teach half of the entire 6th grade class. I always knew I had a lot of students, but this week gave me more insight and ownership of my teaching duties. I realized that my job is much more than teaching the PE standards and developing live lessons. I have a responsibility to be a source of comfort and guidance for my students and that I may be the only adult in their life that they feel comfortable confiding in. However, I don’t see this as a burden, I see it as a blessing. I am grateful that I have the potential to continue as a healer while being a teacher. I have a new appreciation for my large class sizes, knowing that I have the potential to reach so many more students than a typical classroom teacher.