The "Real World"

 If you speak to educators at any level they will inevitably tell you they want to prepare students for the “real world”. I too have claimed that my goal is for students to be able to manage and thrive within this realm of future realness. Funny thing is, we all have a different definition of what that real world is. For example, I grew up in a small town of 1100 people where everyone knew your name, your business and your dog’s name…and your dog’s business too. The only minority individual in town was my adopted sister and English was the only language spoken. Many of us worked on farms and our largest exposure to drugs was a case of PBR and the occasional dip of chewing tobacco. In addition, I didn’t experience death in my life at a real level until I was an adult and lost my grandfather to cancer. For me, that was my “real world”.

Yet, as I sit with another round of students the harsh truth of this real world came and slapped me in the face today. Without breaching any sort of confidence of student privacy, I will say that some of my students shared things that blew my mind. They have experienced loss, death, pain and suffering unlike anything I have experienced in my life to this point. Exposed to things by the age of 12 that I still have not been is a sobering reality. Many students have coped with life events that would bring most adults sobbing to their knees and incapacitate them.

Yet, here they sit in my class without a sign of the troubled waters beneath. Their peers sitting next to them completely unaware of what they have experienced or been exposed to. In many cases, their other teachers are oblivious as well. Despite all of their hardships, they manage it because that is their world. It is their normal. They don’t know any differently just as I didn’t when I was growing up. They are already living in a real world and for many it is far more real than the world we are preparing them for in school.

I am going to stop preparing kids for the real world that frankly doesn’t exist out in some mythical space and future time. Instead, I want to help kids navigate the real world they are living in right now. Listen to them and provide what ever supports I can. Feel for them and recognize there is far more beneath the surface if I just take the time to look and care. Don’t assume that a smiling face and nice clothes are synonymous with a perfect life and happy existence. Recognize the real world exists but don’t prepare students for it but rather help them live in their real world as each individual defines it.

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