If you teach in an affluent community — or at least, a stable, middle-class one — then as the summer approaches, your students probably behave in predictable ways. They get restless, they start to slack off, they become lively and happy and loud, and they cheer when you tell them how many days are left until summer. This is how you and I behaved when we were children, isn’t it?
If you teach in a school that serves a low-income population, you discover a different phenomenon. Here some students start to become tense and worried. Their behavior takes a nosedive, and they seem angry all the time. They do not look forward to summer with light hearts. These children dread the start of summer.
Wouldn’t you, if the end of the school year meant the end of stability and consistency in your life? What about if it meant the end of regular meals? Would you look forward to summer if it meant that you wouldn’t get fed breakfast and lunch in any kind of reliable way?
This phenomenon is true of preschoolers as well as the older kids. In my class, almost everyone had a stable homelife, and the majority had two parents at home (unusual for their demographic group, and perhaps one of the reasons they were such lovely, smart, kind children). My problem child, however, was looking at a summer spent at home with a depressed single mother with not enough money and too many kids (not to mention a baby grandchild, born to a teenage sister of my student). This child’s behavior, while slowly deteriorating through the spring, completely fell apart at the end of the year.
It was frustrating, but it was also painful to watch. Miss Slinger and I knew what this child’s summer would be like. The child knew it, too. Hence the sadness and rage on display almost daily at the end.
Sometimes, you wish you could take a child home with you.