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When the Family Fails

Title – When the Family Fails

By – Jennifer A. Ponsart

I have a few students who are stuck in a home life that isn’t so great, but not bad enough to be taken out of the household. As a child, I had my fair share of experiences and am able to use that experience to help my students through a difficult stage of life. One student in particular stands out. I will call her “Susie” for this article.

It was in October and an after-school activity that I had started teaching in September was well under way.

The students started trickling into the classroom, and there was that lovely buzz of activity that fits so well in my room. I was in my office preparing for the class when Susie came in with one of her friends. I could see that something was wrong when I looked at her. “I can’t stay after school today because I have to look after my little sisters.” I assured her that it would not be a problem for her to miss and told her what we would be working on that afternoon. About five minutes later I had almost all of my students and was getting ready to close my office door when Susie walked back in. I thought she had forgotten something and asked if she was okay.

She said that she was fine and would like to sit in while she was waiting for her mother to pick her up. I asked Susie if she would like to participate. Susie answered that she preferred not to. Susie ended up sitting in with us for the entire class.

When class was over and the students were gone, I asked Susie why her mother hadn’t come yet. She told me, “My stepdad went out drinking two nights ago and hasn’t been home yet. It’s my responsibility to take care of my younger sisters, but I think Mom’s out looking for Dad.” I wanted to make sure that Susie was really “o.k.” and after I was satisfied that she was, I told her a little about my past.

I think it helped Susie when I told her, “It’s okay to be tired of being strong for the adults in your life. It’s okay to be angry because you are expected to do adult things now. It’s okay to be afraid that your dad may not be alright. You are allowed to be frustrated because you’re stuck in a mess that you can’t get out of.” Susie began to tear up after I told her that it was okay to feel.

Just because Susie’s family is failing her doesn’t mean that Susie will fail. I allowed her to know a little of my childhood. She sees that I have succeeded in my own life and realizes that there is a future for her. One thing I have noticed in all of my students is that when the family fails, they look upon their teachers for help.


Jennifer A. Ponsart

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