In Her Shoes is a series written by readers to give us a glimpse into their lives – to see what it is like to walk in their shoes. Today I am thrilled to introduce you to Jami Williamson – my lovely cousin! She is going to share a peek into her life as a high school language arts teacher. Let’s join our friend as she shares with us what it is like to walk in her shoes. ~ Love, G
A Letter to Parents from Your Teens’ Language Arts Teacher
There have been many op-eds and articles over the past few years discussing trends of dark topics in Young Adult (YA) literature. Having taught at both the middle and high school levels, and being a parent of a teenager myself, led me to think about how dark topics such as suicide, sexual assault, and abuse are addressed in the classroom. Instead could these topics be used to create an environment of openness and communication in the classroom?
I have probably lost some of my audience already who are exclaiming, “I DO NOT want my teen talking about sex or other controversial topics at school. Your job is to teach them to read and write, not attempt to trump my job of instilling values as their parent.” But please, hear me out. First, our job as educators is not to replace our values with the ones you have instilled in your child. We acknowledge that the students in our classroom come from a wide variety of backgrounds and value sets, and we work hard to create an inclusive environment where no one’s values are degraded or contradicted. Secondly, a teacher’s focus should most definitely be on reading and writing, skills that prepare our teenagers for the life ahead. It is for this reason educators gravitate toward literature which addresses such difficult topics.
You may also be thinking, “I have worked hard to keep my child’s life free from the darker side of life. My child is not abused, depressed, or suicidal and it IS NOT the school’s place to put those ideas in his/her head.” Once again I agree, and your child’s teachers fully appreciate all of the hard work parents do to keep teenagers on positive paths in their lives. However, looking at the statistics will show you that keeping your child’s life free from the seedier aspects of life will not fully protect them. When looking up the statistics for this letter, I was appalled. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death in teens in addition to the 100-200 that attempt suicide for every teenager that completes the act. This comes to a frightening total of 1 out of every 15 teenagers attempting to take their own life. So chances are that your child has at least one friend who has considered suicide.
The statistics for sexual assault and other forms of abuse are just as disturbing. According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) website, 44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of eighteen, and 15% are under the age of twelve. Childhelp Network testifies that more than 6 million instances of child abuse are reported each year and an additional 3 million children witness violence against another person in their home. What do all of these numbers tell us? Even if you have been fortunate enough to protect your teen from the horrors faced by many other children in the US, the chances are great that these issues will be faced by someone they are close to.
So, back to my reason for writing this letter to the parents of our students. This is precisely why we should address these topics in our classrooms. Not every piece we read is dark and gritty; but, by choosing literature that delves into this side of life and by creating an atmosphere of open and safe discussion within the student body, we hope to provide a place where students who are facing these horrors can speak up to a teacher or fellow student. For those students who are not faced with these troubles, we hope our discussions will help them learn that they, too, can help their friends by speaking up to an adult.
I am not a counselor, nor do I claim to be; but as a professional educator I am aware of the resources that are available to troubled students. We have counselors in our schools who are trained and experienced in addressing these topics on a personal level with the students. We have administrators who have many resources available to assist. Language arts teachers on the front lines have literature and discussion.
To read more encouraging stories, or if you are interested in sharing your own story, please go to the In Her Shoes tab near the top of the page. I love learning about the people in this series. Connecting with others seems to make the world feel not quite as big and scary. We’re all in this together. I can’t wait to hear from you, to read your stories, and learn more of what it is like to walk in your shoes.
Hey, y'all! I am always beyond thrilled to hear from YOU! I'm toying with the idea of making this Dear...