Monday, November 3, 2008

Life Doesn't Stop and Wait

Today was a mildly rough day. Last Friday one of the seniors died kind of unexpectedly from a heart condition. He wasn't one of my students, in fact, I didn't even recognize his name. But it brought back some memories...

My third year of teaching I had four classes of US History and one class of world history. That one world class was pretty small, I think I had only 15 or so kids in it, and it was my first period, and we had a pretty special relationship. About the middle of September or so, I got a new student named Tiger in my room. Tiger was Palestinian and had a congenital heart defect that had confined him to a wheelchair for a while. Tiger, his mom and two older twin sisters had immigrated to the US to escape an abusive husband and father. His mother took care of him and worked full time, and the two older girls were in community college and working full time as well. Tiger was funny, and sweet, and quickly became the mascot for our class. In December, he started getting too weak to come to school. We made him a blanket one day instead of doing class work, and I visited him at home to give it to him. Then in January he went to the hospital, and I visited him there too....that was kind of hard. Tiger died on February 14, Valentine's Day, and I didn't know what to say to my kids (students). They knew before I told them what had happened, and wanted to know why. I told them his heart was like a battery, and it just ran out. We cried together and talked about it, and even though that was probably one of the worst days I've ever had as a teacher, I am so glad that I had Tiger in my class.

The kids here are ok for now, they all knew Saturday and organized a candlelight vigil last night at the school which apparently went very well. The kids told stories about Victor and while there were some tears today, things were ok.

It's harder when a student commits suicide. That same year I had a particularly challenging 7th period US History class with two students especially that kind of drove me crazy. They were both really smart, gifted students, in fact, they both passed the state history test with a commended score (meaning they scored 90% or higher), but both failed my class miserably...because they wouldn't turn things in. I liked them both, but was so frustrated. That summer, one of the boys spent the summer at his uncle's ranch, and one day in July he took a gun, went out in a field, and shot himself. No one, including his family and friends, saw any signs of suicidal behavior, and I still think back and wonder if there was something I missed.

My kids don't know that I worry about them all the time. Every time there is a news story about teenagers getting shot, or a gang fight, I worry that the name I hear will be one I recognize, one that I talked to, one that I helped, or hugged, or lost my temper with. Odds are that in my teaching career, these two won't be the last two that I lose, but I hope the numbers stay low.

Hug your kids....


Bethany Haile Photography said...

I'm sorry...that must be hard. Thanks for the reminder, I am headed back in to give the girls one more hug tonight! This scares me too since we just met with the pastor and were planning to start helping the high school group since the YP just moved to PDX. I hope you can be a light right now during a dark time!

Colleen said...

Geez! Sorry to hear you are going through this again. I remember how cool that was that you and the kids made the blanket for Tiger. I know his mom loved it and still has it close by.
I totally feel you on the news story. We also have that feeling when we drive past car accidents near the school.
It puts it all in perspective.

Sadiebug and her Mom said...

I think back to my former teachers in my small town, and they really were both parents and teachers in many ways. You are a great teacher in an admirable career because you care about your students. Big hugs to you and your students!