During a lunchtime discussion, a coworker of mine started telling us about a problem she was having with a couple students in her room. Apparently they had been sneaking back into the room at the end of the day as she walked the class to the bus.
She was made aware of this by another student and told that they were stealing bags of chips and toys from the treasure box. When she confronted the two students and checked their backpacks, they were indeed stuffed with trinkets and chip bags.
She asked our advise on how to handle the situation. There was talk of disciplinary action and having a whole class discussion on right and wrong. At first I was in agreement about this – stealing is wrong. But then I wondered aloud about why they were they stealing.
As the conversation unfolded more, it was reveled that the girl who was targeting the chip bags was living in a group home and has had the most unstable of childhoods. I will not share details.
For me this information drastically changed how I looked at the situation. Yes, stealing is wrong, but I could now better understand, or try to. Her baseline, her perspective is not mine. I cannot begin to imagine being eight years old without a family, without stability, without knowing in my core that I am safe.
My advice was to be there for her. Have snacks in your desk drawer to give to her when she asks. Share with her that she does not have to steal from you, but that if she asks she will get something to eat. Be that safe place that she does not have.
As the bell rang and we hurriedly packed up our lunch and headed out to collect our kids for an afternoon of math and social studies, I was still thinking. I was thinking of those things that can be stolen – food, money, clothes.
And those things that cannot.