June 26, 2000 -- Confronted with a gun-toting third-grader, most people would call 911. But one California teacher reacted differently: She hugged the armed boy. In response, he melted into tears. "My mother is in prison," he said. "They're going to move her out of the state. I want to go with her."
The story holds a lesson for all teachers, says Bonnie Benard, an Oakland, Calif., educational consultant and designer of the Resilience Module used in California public schools. "A good teacher can help a child be resilient. When you ask kids how they managed to get through the tough times, they'll tell you, 'There was this teacher who cared when there was nobody at home.' "
For the Healthy Kids report released to school administrators in May 2000, the state of California polled 27,000 middle-school and high-school students to see how many engaged in high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking and drug use, and how many had these three "resilience factors":
Supportive relationships with teachers who care and take the time to get to know their students.
High-expectation messages from teachers -- such as "you can do better" and "I believe in you."
Community outreach programs that allow kids to give back to society and develop a sense of purpose and meaning.
The students who said they had such close relations with teachers and community programs were less likely to turn to alcohol, drugs, or violence. Says Bernard: "Our message to teachers and school administrators is, 'There's something you can do.' "
Valerie Andrews has written for Intuition, HealthScout, and many other publications. She lives in Greenbrae, Calif.