Saturday, September 7, 2013

Baggage - Helping Students Lighten Their Load!

A few years ago I was flying home from college. I was already on the plane when they announced that the flight was delayed. Because I knew I would miss my layover, I asked the flight attendant if I could deplane and try to get on another flight. Ironically, the gate next door held a plane with a direct flight to my destination. I was able to get a ticket on that flight very easily...almost TOO easily :)

I asked if there was any way they could get my baggage from under the first plane and transfer it to the second plane. Again, they acted like that wouldn't be an issue, and I was reassured my baggage would be on the direct flight. About an hour later, I boarded the new plane, sat comfortably in my seat, looked out the window and there it was: my maroon colored suitcase, sitting right next to the first plane I was on. So, I quickly hit my call button to alert the flight attendant. She listened intently as I explained that the bag I was pointing at was in fact my bag. We were just minutes away from pulling away from the gate, when she sprinted off the plane, ran to get my bag and after checking the tags and my ID, she secured it on the plane. A few hours later, my belongings all arrived with all the other bags in baggage claim :)

On the flight home, I wrote the following poem:


One day I wish I'd go to baggage claim
and my baggage wouldn’t show
but I carry this baggage
everywhere I go.


I wish this baggage would just get lost
lost on the runway
I wouldn’t miss it
wouldn’t miss it for a day


I wish this baggage would just get stolen
so go ahead and take it
'cause once you see what's inside
like me, you'd want to break it


But, I'm not lucky enough to lose it
or have someone take it away
so, I guess this baggage,
is mine and here to stay.


-Written by Arin Kress - November 2005

I obviously was having a difficult time with the baggage that I was carrying in my life. Poetry has always been a good outlet. However, I thought of this poem the past two weeks as I met all my students and am in the process of building relationships with each one. I did my research. Looked at their files. Learned about their families. Asked a lot of questions....

What I unfortunately found was that many of them carry a lot of baggage. Baggage that I have never had to carry. Baggage that I personally hope I won't have to carry for a long time, or may never have to carry. 

My heart breaks for these students. I want to be a bright light in their life. I hope that every day I can provide for them a safe haven where they can smile, laugh, learn, play and be kids. 

And I know my students unfortunately aren't alone. These students are in all of our classes. They are in every city around the world. Each individual not only brings to class their own strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, failures and successes, but just as important: They bring their own baggage.

Each one's baggage is tagged with his/her name and his/her name alone. Each one is special and unique so it can be identified in the crowd. And like baggage in an airport, sometimes students can get lost.

It's understandable why they get lost. I have taught students who have lost one or both parents; who had lost grandparents and siblings; who have lost a classmate, teacher or friend; who have lost their house and belongings to a fire; whose family members are imprisoned or dependent on drugs or alcohol; whose parents are getting divorced; who are in the middle of a custody battle; who have witnessed a tragic event or a crime; who experience medical problems or whose loved ones experience serious medical issues; The list goes on and on.

The baggage that each student carries can be overwhelming for them. Who is there to make their load lighter? In a perfect world, hopefully a lot of people! Hopefully the student has a strong support system, but most times, this isn't the case. YOU can be there. YOU can be the bright light in their life.

However, you might not be able to figuratively 'jump off the plane to save the day' like that flight attendant did for me. Jimmy Casas's post, Living in Potential Prison, so honestly discusses the difficulty of "not being able to save every kid." My last post, Building Community While Breaking Down Walls, discusses how it may be difficult to build a relationship with some students.

It's important to remember to not try to help each student carry their baggage alone! Think about what happens when you drop off your baggage at the ticket counter. You relinquish possession, but you do not relinquish ownership.

Think about how many people handle your bags at an airport before it arrives safely at baggage claim. I honestly don't know how it happens sometimes, and I've had to eat my words more than once when I was sure my bag wouldn't arrive at its destination!

This is what we have to do when we are helping students be successful despite the baggage they carry. Go to your colleagues for advice. Seek out help from the school counselor. Look for support groups for your students to join if necessary. Look beyond the school and into the community for help! You aren't the only person who will care about the students! We have to work together to help our students through difficult times. (Great advice spoken by an amazing mentor of mine - Jimmy Casas)

Although the students won't be able to relinquish ownership of their baggage, my hope is that they will TRUST that they are in good hands! It's important that you're aware of their baggage and that you in fact handle it with care:

Build a relationship with each student.

Be a positive role model.

Smile at them.

Laugh with them.

Tell them stories about your life and choices you've had to make.

And most importantly- Listen to them.

By doing the above suggestions, you won't be able to make their baggage disappear, but you will be able to help lighten their load!

Lesson #31: Like Rita Pierson said so eloquently in her Ted Talk, "Every Kid Needs A Champion." Be that champion for the students in your class and at your school. 

Now, that I'm older and a little wiser...I feel the need to write another 'Baggage" poem....

Baggage (Part 2)

One day I got to baggage claim 

and my baggage actually showed
See this baggage is mine
No matter where I go.


I was so happy to see it

I couldn't believe my eyes
For this baggage has been through so much
and I'll claim it with a cry.


That baggage is mine!

Get out of my way
See this baggage hasn't left me
It's mine and here to stay.


It was handled with care

and arrived in one piece
I'm glad I have this baggage
'cause I'm the person it's made me!


-Written by Arin Kress - September 2013

As the students grow, I hope they too have the epiphany that I have had over the years. My hope is that they can accept their baggage - they just may need some guidance to baggage claim - and that's where we can point them in the right direction!

What are your thoughts on this topic? Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter (@ArinKress)

Thanks for reading,

1 comment:

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