Every once in a while, I pick up a book that makes me view students differently. One for the Murphys, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, is one such book. The novel focuses on Carley Connors, a girl who ends up in foster care after being attacked by her stepfather. Hurt and alone, Carley is fostered by the Murphys, a seemingly perfect family. The book follows Carley as she tackles the daunting tasks of finding a place to belong in their household, navigating a new school, and coming to terms with the attack.
Importantly, One for the Murphys allows us to see Carley's perspectives on these events. She starts off angry and wary, keeping her distance from the Murphys and not fully trusting them. Slowly, she warms up to her foster mother, while still being cautious, knowing that she will one day have to leave. The Murphys open her eyes to happy family life, which allows her to grow, but also underlines what she has been missing. In truth, Carley is a mess of contradictions. She wants to be loved, but constantly pushes people away. She is strong and resilient, having endured more than a child should have to endure. At the same time, she is heartbreakingly fragile, taking the slightest rejection by her foster family hard. She is torn between her new foster mother, who builds her up, and her birth mother, who failed to properly care for her.
I see a number of students in the character of Carley. These students embody a lot of the same contradictions, and can be challenging to teach. Often as teachers, we get preoccupied with the business of teaching, that we forget the baggage our students have. We get frustrated when a student does not immediately engage in the task at hand and forget to ask why. For students who are living in foster care, removed from their families, with a traumatic past, it is understandable that finishing their spelling assignment may not be their number one priority. Reading about Carley reminds me to be empathetic and patient with these kids, a reminder that we all need every so often.