If you want to know what's really going on in the lives of our nation's children, ask a teacher.
Now, I'm not talking about all teachers. There are the token few whose bias may be way off course, due to a much-overdue retirement still not taken, the blatant power struggles they just can't seem to let go of, the ones who, for whatever reason, cannot find happiness in their profession.
No, you need to ask the ones who show up everyday because they want to, they need to. The ones who dare to care. The ones who may complain and vent and let off steam on their "bad days", but will turn around the next day and tell you the sweetest story about the one who drove them crazy the day before. The ones who tell it like it is, but then tell you how they think it can be, and how it can be changed. The ones who arrive early, stay late, wipe that nose and those tears, share their lunch, speak the language, cross those t's and dot those i's. The ones who cry about the kids and with the kids and with their parents. The ones who have high expectations that your kids complain about, but whom the kids hug the hardest on the last day of school and thank in their graduation speeches. Ask these teachers about the real lives of their students, not the pundits who haven't spent weeks in a classroom in years.
Oh, and then we have the bravest of the brave, in my opinion--the high school teachers. They work with the attitudes, the bravado, the often addled confused state of those we call young "men" and "women". Kids, still, with child hearts in grown up bodies. Kids who can accomplish great things and make life-changing choices with those grown up bodies. These teachers are the last line of defense, among the last truly attentive adults who will care for our children before they are thrust into that big scary land of adulthood, full of promises and pitfalls.
There are certain lines I can't cross as an elementary teacher, social mores and developmentally inappropriate topics that I cannot and will not discuss with my "babies". But high school teachers have the whole can of worms to deal with. And I am thankful for those teachers who step up and not only allow those cans to pop open, but let the worms wriggle out, to be displayed and dissected and discussed. To support those child hearts in grownup bodies as they see, some for the first time, the sometimes ugly truths that we, as faulty human beings, create for ourselves and others.
If the kids are lucky, the ugliness gets scrutinized from the eyepiece of the telescope, looked at from afar with solutions born of objectivity and humanity, history tests that don't have to be repeated to pass this course called life.
Sadly, in this day and age, there are many child hearts in grown up bodies who are at the other end of the telescope, who have experienced ugly truths. Many more are extremely aware of the ugliness, but have no forum to process their thoughts and feelings about it. For all of these kids, teachers can be their lifeline, their validation, their rescue. Classrooms can be the place to hack their way through the confusion and access compassion and clarity.
The teachers who are brave enough to venture through this territory with dignity and intelligence, guiding their students without judgement to that place where students can guide themselves to a brighter future for all of us...These are the teachers who know the hearts of our children. These teachers have my utmost respect and admiration.
Go ahead, ask a teacher. I dare you. Be careful, because you may not like what you hear. But please, please, be thankful for whom you hear it from. Because I'm guessing you would much rather hear it from a teacher, than from your local law enforcement officials or news media.