Thanksgiving into the New Year is one of my favorite times of year — (besides my birthday, of course!). All of the delicious Jamaican delicacies that only get made during the Holidays, the decorating of the Christmas tree, the giving and receiving of heartfelt gifts, and the inherent hope that the prospect of a new year brings are just some of the many reasons why I find more spring in my step as the year winds down.
This was not always the case.
There was a time in my life when the Holidays were not very happy for me. To be honest, they were marred by the death of a very close loved one, not having a place of my own to call home, and a series of many other unfortunate events. While everyone was decking the halls and kissing under the mistletoe, I felt lonely and despondent; yet everyday, I put on a happy face, went to work faithfully, and somehow made it through
For many of our students, the Holiday season that we are currently in is not a happy time. It’s vital that we remember this and are sensitive to the fact that while we, their school teachers, assistant principals, and principals, are shopping for gifts for our family and friends after work and on the weekends, they have no gifts coming their way about which to be excited. There are many students hidden among us who, like myself, will be spending the Holidays in a prison visiting room eating a burger made of processed meat, bought from an over-priced vending machine, and heated-up in a microwave oven — not a Butterball turkey with all the fixings that is synonymous with this festive time of year in our American culture.
For many of our students, there is no going away on vacation over the break. If they make it to Jamaica Avenue or Fordham Road to catch a matinee, that will be their daycation. Students will be left at home all day unsupervised or under-supervised, watching TV and playing video-games, while their parent(s) or guardians are working overtime to keep a roof over their head, food in their belly, and clothes on their back.
The holidays may bring with them drunken family members and anniversaries of traumas; visits with step-families that are awkward and uncomfortable; time spent with “uncles” and “cousins” that are way too “touchy-feely” when nobody’s looking.
The Holidays are not a happy time for all of our students. Many are socially and emotionally fragile, without the skill set needed to effectively handle the situations they face. While we are not with our students over the break, it behooves is to be mindful of heightened outbursts, anger, frustration, and/or fatigue that they may exhibit in the weeks leading up to (already past), during (where we are currently), and upon returning to school after the break.
I was reminded of just how devastating the holidays can be for students when I read this teacher’s testimony of her experiences as a child growing up in poverty during the holiday season.
Occasionally at holidays someone would show up with a turkey. If the turkey was uncooked, it was a problem because there was not always electricity or gas to use for cooking. If the turkey was cooked, they had food. Gifts? Unless someone brought them to them, there were none. When school started again and the teacher assigned the students to write “What I Got for Christmas” essays, she would make up a story. It was easier than having someone pity her.
During this celebratory season, as advocates for children, we must be aware of our students’ social-emotional temperature. Our students are depending on us. They need us more than we can imagine.
Happy Holidays…..or nah.