Dear Teacher: My Mother is on Drugs. She didn’t call me on Christmas. I haven’t seen her in a year and a half.

At 8:40 this morning, alone in the room with me for sixty seconds between classes, a young boy shared this with me:

My mother takes drugs.

She didn’t call me on Christmas.

I haven’t seen her in a year and a half.

As he spoke I suddenly understood at least some of why this child had been unfocused, distracted, argumentative during class. His story is not unusual in the schools where I work. I think that unfortunately this kind of story is common in schools throughout America.

Most children living these kinds of experiences have trouble concentrating in school. How to measure an angle or the best way to start an essay have trouble occupying center stage in most young minds recoiling from emotional (and sometimes physical) bruising.

The way we organize schools should reflect the understanding we have of the difficulties so many children go through as they grow. At present most schools are designed for children who have Leave It to Beaver families. We should accept that times have changed and we should alter our schools so that they help all children learn.

The boy who shared a little of his life story with me needs counseling. He doesn’t need it during Art class, or Social Studies, or Language Arts – when most interventions in our schools are scheduled – he needs it after school. He also needs a safe environment after school in which to play until his father gets home from work at 5:30. He needs homework help and some extra work with a reading specialist as well. All of this should happen after school, so that his regular classwork is not negatively impacted. The reason this should happen after school is that he needs the same basic education other children get so he can thrive later in life.

Schools should serve as community centers in the after school hours to meet those needs that cannot – or should not – be met during the regular school day. This includes services for those students who need time with the gifted and talented teachers, the speech therapists, the RTI specialists in math and reading, and the guidance counselor. In addition, parents who need help doing taxes,  learning to read, working on parenting skills – all of these needs should be addressed right in our local schools between the hours of 2:30 and 6:00. This would be a superb use of the public buildings that we already pay for and that are often unused after 3:00.

A child whose happiness is put at risk by life events should not be sent home at 2:30 left to fend for himself. He should be given appropriate services so that he can grow and mature into a healthy adult who can take his rightful place in the world.

There will be some who say that the father in my story should take care of addressing the boy’s needs. Yes – I agree – his father should – but will he? And if he does not (and so many do not) this boy should not be left to fail.  If he is, in the end the abandonment of our collective responsibility will most likely come back to haunt us – the boy will end up depressed, uneducated, enraged, perhaps violent, possibly on the dole.

We should act now to help him and so many others. Use your voice to urge your school boards and political representatives to tackle the needs of their constituents and update our schools.






Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.