In the beginning…
His name was Brandon. It was 1989 and I was a first-year teacher in an Early Childhood Special Education class. He had been removed from multiple preschools because his behavior was difficult to manage. He had beautiful, beseeching brown eyes with impossibly long lashes. I could not manage his behavior, either.
He was a child.
Over the course of that school year, I never spoke to either of his parents. He was five years old, but not ready for kindergarten – he did not know his letters or their sounds, he could barely write his first name, and he could only sometimes count to 10. When he felt academically or socially frustrated, he would launch into a tantrum that shut down the entire class’ learning.
I held tremendous “book knowledge”
My Master’s program had taught me all about behavior management, so I knew just what to do: remove Brandon from the situation. Remove anything that might sustain the tantrums. What this means in plain language is time out in a locked room where he could scream, cry, and kick to exhaustion.
I held little “life knowledge”
Despite all my schooling, I never once considered that this precious child might be hungry. Now I realize that he could probably only count on the meals the school fed him.
No one ever spoke of children coming to school hungry
Maya Angelou said that when you know better, you do better. I am glad to tell you that I became a more holistic teacher as I gained more experience, but my students rarely claimed to be hungry, so I never considered that to be a concern. I never imagined food insecurity to be an issue in my community; naively, I did not believe that children went hungry in America.
Hunger is a reality that children bring with them to school
I tell you what I now know: children who are hungry are unable to learn. Hunger affects their brain development, their ability to concentrate in class, and their social emotional development, just to name a few obvious ways hunger impacts school performance. The stress of food insecurity imprints a child in ways both physical and emotional that alter the trajectory of a life.