Lessons Unlearned



I am learning lessons about being prepared, the hard way. One kind of prepared is the funeral clothes in my car because I am waiting to find out when the memorial is for a student who committed suicide last week. Another kind of prepared I am still trying to sort out – prepared to be in my students’ lives and to be a positive influence on them and walking the line between being a strong teacher and a loving teacher. I’m not talking about the little ones- that’s easy. They are sunny afternoons dotted with scattered showers. They hug me and tell me they love me and get super excited for even the most mundane, idiotic form of language learning that I can dream up. It’s my mornings that I am thinking about – the adolescents who shuffle and lumber and slink their way into my room, thunderclouds in their faces. And it’s late May, so every morning is torrential: an eye-rolling, lip-smacking, supply-vandalizing, smart-talking, quiz-failing, grumble-faced tidal wave.

The eighth grade girl who killed herself last week was at my school for sixth and seventh grade. In sixth grade, my first year of teaching, I got to know her well. That is to say, I said her name a lot, and pulled her aside after class a lot, and wrote her up a lot, and spoke with her mother a lot. In the haze that was my first year of teaching, I don’t know if I was being a bad teacher, or if she was just being a pill. (Experience and grief make me believe the former.) But even past our strained rapport I could see that she was smart, witty, and popular. She had scholarships waiting for her and a mother who was obviously involved and loving. Just before the beginning of this school year I ran into her in the school office, coming to pick up paperwork to transfer to a new school that she seemed excited about.

On Friday, as word trickled around the school, my middle school classes did not roll their eyes or smack their lips or talk back at me, and I did not yell or lecture or count to ten in my head. We were all subdued and quiet. I still feel unhinged. It’s a cop out to say that this is something separate from me and my role as a teacher. It’s a cop out to try and tie things up into something neat and poignant. I need to walk back into my classroom tomorrow morning, and I am still unprepared.


2 Responses to Lessons Unlearned

  1. Wendy Kennedy says:

    Sara- I am so sorry for this terrible grief you must bare. I had one of my own students commit suicide (and one 14 yr. old nephew) so I understand the second-guessing and hind-sight that comes with such tragic territory. We will always see ways they needed more from us. We can only do what we can do. We are not messiahs; our students live in a world much bigger than our little piece of their lives. I’m praying for you!

  2. Chelsea says:

    what Wendy says – We will always see ways they needed more from us. thinking of you. and, those photos are unspeakably beautiful.

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