When being a teacher hurts...

| Thursday, August 12
Today I've been dealing with one of the saddest situations of my teaching career. You always hear, going into a career in education, not to bring your students' baggage home with you. You need to keep school life and home life separate. But when you're dealing with the livelihoods of children, it's pretty much impossible not to get emotionally involved. There are students you stress about whether their basic needs are being met, the ones who keep you up at night worrying, the ones who you wish you could bring home with you because you just *know* you'd give them a better home environment than they currently have.

These are the students who break my heart. It's impossible not to build relationships with students, because even the Harvard Principals Center found in one study that the one single thing that has the biggest impact on student achievement is whether or not their teachers care enough to form a relationship with them.

Four years ago, during my second year teaching, I had two such boys in my class. Today focuses on one of them. He was from a rough family whose step-father was a large, scary, verbally abusive, drug-dealing (rumoured), "hood rich" man. He scared the living daylights out of me, and I never had to deal with his mouth directed at me personally. I just witnessed it directed at others. And I was terrified.

Needless to say, DCS was involved in this boy's life. During his sixth grade year, he was pulled out of his home and sent to live with an aunt for about a month. Then, after a home visit that was obviously all an act by the kid's parents, he was returned to his parents. Another month or so, he was pulled out and sent back to the aunt, and a formal DCS hearing was held. This time, he was taken away from the abusive, drug-ridden situation for good. But sadly, when he was sent to a group home in the spring of that year, he was taken out of our school, as well. I no longer had any interaction with him, but I still wondered about him every once in a while.

Fast-forward three years. Last year, a former teacher from our school, who is now an instructional coach, ran into him at his high school, where he was a freshman, and an outstanding varsity football player. He told this woman to tell his 6th grade teachers he was, "doing really well." He also said that he really appreciated all we had done for him. He was in foster care at the time, but apparently it was a pretty good situation, so it seemed.

Then last night, I heard briefly, via Twitter (since I don't watch or listen or read the local news ever), that there had been a shooting in the west part of our city - which is the suburban side where we live. Other than the thought of, "Oh, wow. That doesn't happen out here very often," I didn't give it much brain power.

This morning, while I was sitting in a meeting with my fellow 5th grade teachers, I got a text message from a 6th grade teacher I used to work with. It turned out that the victim of the shooting had been this former student of mine, a 15-year-old boy who was a promising football player and was attempting to get his life back on the right track after having been raised in such unfortunate circumstances.

Today was the first time I had ever gotten news about a former student of mine that shattered my world. I had been holding out hope for this boy for 4 years. And now, it's all gone. And I don't even know who to grieve for. He had no real family to speak of that was involved anymore, because he wasn't even with that same foster family from a year ago. It hurts. Not quite as badly as losing a person who was very close in my life, but still, a child, taken out of this world way too early. And I like to think that I had been instrumental in trying to start that turn to the right direction and rehabilitation.

It's made me realize what an impact these kids have on my own life, and how I hope I've done the same for them. I mourn the fact that the world has lost someone who could possibly have been the next great NFL star running back or a great dad, brother, or friend. And I just don't know what else to say. I just hope that I did help him out in the 4 years since our paths crossed.


Herding Cats said...

I'm so sorry to hear this. I know how I would feel, and it would devastate me. You did make an impact on him though - I'm sure of it.

Eleni said...

That's terrible, I'm so sorry! I know how teachers (good ones at least) care for their kids. It's a tragic story in its own right, but I imagine it's particularly hard for you as one of his previous mentors.

One of my mom's first jobs as a teacher was with early elementary school kids living in the projects. It wasn't until a couple decades later, when she was much more removed from that job and their lives, that she started hearing stories about how so-and-so had gone to jail, but it was weird because she remembered so-and-so as a cute little girl in pigtails.

Obviously that's not the same as this story. But it sounds like you really did help him. It's a shame that he came to this untimely end when it seemed as though things were turning around for him. I grieve for him.

Tasha Lee said...

I'm so sorry to hear that. I know that you did make an impact on his life and that he appreciated everything that you did for him. Just continue to do the same thing for other young people and help keep his memory alive.

Ruth said...

I'm so sorry to hear that, Kara. It sounds like you had him at an especially rough point in his life. By being a teacher that cared, you probably created a safer, quieter zone than what he was dealing with at home, and that's a very good thing. *hugs*

Ambiguous Geek said...

*big hug* I am so sorry to hear about that. It must be heartbreaking. I've witnessed teachers I've had go through similar situations, and I can't imagine how much it must break your heart.

soft nonsense said...

"The one single thing that has the biggest impact on student achievement is whether or not their teachers care enough to form a relationship with them."

At least you can take solace in knowing that you at least made a small difference in that kid's life, and that what you did meant the world to him. A sad story with an even sadder ending, but let's hope he's in a better place now. Keep on keepin' on, blog buddy, because there will always be students like that who need a teacher to be there to care for him or her.

Amy said...

I am sorry to hear it Kara. I couldn't imagine not becoming attached to kids in that kind of environment... I'm sure you did help him in the time you knew him.

michelle said...

*hugs* that's heartbreaking. i'm sure your influence was a great one

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