As a teacher you always have to be prepared for an answer you weren’t expecting. This may be due to the unpredictability of a kid’s brain, but sometimes it’s the result of other circumstances. “You’re a really bright kid. Why haven’t you been doing your homework?” I asked Motormouth the other day, my voice thick with exasperation.

“I’m having a hard time concentrating.”

“Why is that?”

“My mom and dad are arguing a lot.”

“Why are you so tired?” I asked a girl in my after school program after she admitted to being too tired to concentrate.

“I had to stay up late cleaning the floor because my dog pees a lot. She’s diabetic.”

“How late were you up?”

“12.”

“Why was it your job to clean the floor?”

“It’s part of my chores.”

“What are your chores?” The girl proceeded to list all sorts of household work, some typical and some not for an eight-year-old kid. “How long were you doing chores for?”

“From 8 – 12.”

It makes the frustrating task of teaching a kid to be “responsible” by doing their homework seem somewhat unrealistic and unfair. While the answers to these questions (Why isn’t your homework done? Why are you so tired? What time did you go to bed? Why weren’t you in school yesterday?) start to fill in themselves once you’ve spent enough time teaching in a high need school, the unique stories never cease to amaze or dishearten. I try not to think of all the questions left unasked and unanswered from my first year of teaching, and remind myself that it takes time to learn the right questions to ask.