by Dr. Krysten Pampel and Dr. Ashley Nicoloff
In my life as an educator, I have been faced with many difficult situations that were hard for me to navigate. The one that has stuck with me the longest was when I was teaching high school. I had two brothers who were both taking my algebra course, one a freshman and the other a junior. The only day that they both attended my class was the first day of school, from there on out I only ever had one of the brothers. About two weeks into the school year, I approached the older brother to enquire why I only saw him every other day. He chose to be vague and blame illness and bad timing of a family emergency. I didn’t push but I watched for another two weeks as the brother continued their alternating attendance in my class. They were both doing reasonably well in my course and they weren’t hurting anyone but the situation bothered me.
I decided that enough was enough, I needed to get to the bottom of this unusual behavior. I approached the younger brother this time and asked about the unusual attendance pattern. The younger brother explained that they were alternating days to attend because they had two non-school aged siblings at home and their mother was working a second job. They had to alternate attendance in order to make sure that the siblings at home were cared for.
I was astounded that this was the reason but checked with the older brother the next day to confirm the story since I was unable to get the mother on the phone, understandably, in the previous weeks. The older brother asked me to keep this quiet and that he appreciated my willingness to work with him and his brother for the assignments and tests. He admitted to me that they had been doing this alternating attendance for the past two years and he was excited to have his brother in high school so it could work more effectively.
I explained to him that I could not keep our conversation a secret and I would speak with the social worker to see if there could be any support given. It was risking to bring in the social worker since in some cases the students flee the school as a way to avoid the conversations that follow. In this case, I was happy that everything worked out. The school was able to find support for the family so that the younger children could receive care, their mother could work, and both brothers could attend school regularly.
This was a difficult situation for me to navigate but those two brothers were the ones that had “difficult situations.” Those two brothers will forever be a reminder to me that “tough times create tough people.”